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Voters decide police levy's fate

August 23, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Despite concerns from a county official about rising taxes in Berkeley County, the Berkeley County Commission Thursday decided to ask voters for approval of an excess levy that would add 10 officers to the sheriff's department.

Officials with the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department said they need more deputies to improve response times, allow for better in-depth investigations and expand police presence.

If approved, the three-year excess levy, which will be placed on the ballot for the Nov. 5 general election, will generate $2.8 million for the sheriff's department, Sheriff W. Randy Smith said.

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For a house that is assessed at $100,000, the excess levy would increase the homeowner's tax bill by about $34 a year, Smith said.

Berkeley County Assessor Evelyn Fink expressed concerns about the excess levy at the commission's regular meeting Thursday.

Fink said property taxes are already rising because of increased property values in the county. Home prices, which the assessor's office uses to assess the value of homes, are rising rapidly in the county, Fink said.

Taxpayers are calling the assessor's office more frequently wanting to know why their taxes are going up and Fink fears that will increase if the excess levy passes.

Fink asked Commission President Howard Strauss if he thinks excess levies are going to be a common method of funding government services.

Strauss said he thinks it will be.

Strauss said he felt the commissioners had to consider the excess levy due to a shortage of police officers - particularly state troopers - in the county.

There are currently just 12 West Virginia State Police troopers in the county.

The sheriff's department has 35 deputies and two vacancies.

Due to a large number of calls in the county, the two departments have had as many as six calls back up on them, Smith said.

"We have to fill that void. It's the people in Berkeley County that will be paying for it," Strauss said.

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