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School, police levies on ballot

November 04, 2002|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Along with candidates, children and police officers will be on Tuesday's general election ballot - in a sense.

Berkeley County has an excess school levy and a police levy up for voters' consideration.

The school levy, a continuation of one that has been supported for 54 years, would enable the school to continue providing free textbooks and to pay for salaries, maintenance and support for community organizations.

The police levy, which has not received voter approval in years past, would enable the Sheriff's Department to add 10 deputies, buy 18 cruisers in its first year and pay for uniforms, salary increases for current officers and benefits.

The school levy needs a simple majority to pass, while 60 percent of voters must check the "yes" box for the police levy to go into effect.

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Cpl. Ted Snyder, president of the Berkeley County Deputy Sheriff's Association, has spearheaded the initiative to get the word out about the levy. He's spoken with homeowners associations and civic clubs, done radio interviews and handed out brochures.

As the election nears, off-duty officers have been going door-to-door pitching the levy and answering questions.

"This is an investment in our future," Snyder said.

If the levy passes, the average homeowner would pay around $3 a month in taxes.

"That's the cheapest security you can buy," Snyder said.

The Sheriff's Department has 39 deputies, one shy of its full-strength number of 40. The levy would boost the department to 50 officers.

Many people want to know how another 10 officers will directly affect them, or their neighborhood.

Snyder can't guarantee anything, but he tells people they have a better chance of deputies taking a proactive stance - patrolling communities rather than arriving after a crime has been committed.

"You want to see us when nothing's going on. When nothing's going on, we're doing our job," he said.

Crime increasing


Crime is not on the decline.

In one recent 24-hour period, 14 deputies handled 48 calls, according to the daily police log. Six were traffic accidents, which can take an hour or more to investigate. Other calls included a burglary, a break-in, reckless drivers, runaways, a sex offense, a suspicious person, a larceny, a medical assist, vehicles that need to be unlocked and others.

In addition, deputies must serve court paperwork, including subpoenas, Family Protection Act orders and warrants. On some days they must conduct hearings for mental persons, then make a six- to eight-hour trip to take that person to a mental institution.

With state police cutting back on nighttime patrols, county deputies will have to answer calls formerly handled by troopers.

"Ten years ago you had to worry about your mailbox getting bashed up by kids," Snyder said.

Now more violent, urban-type crimes - including homicides, bank robberies, police shootings and drugs - are infiltrating the county, he said.

"Drugs are very prevalent here," said Snyder, an officer with the Eastern Panhandle Drug and Violent Crime Task Force. "Prescription drug (abuse) and heroin are just off the charts."

Snyder said it's not his intention to incite fear; he's just reciting facts.

"The sniper was caught 45 miles from the county line," he said.

He offered this piece of advice to those who are unsure how to vote: "While you and 80,000 other residents are sleeping, three or four deputies are watching the store," he said. "If you're comfortable with that, vote 'no.' "

Along with hiring officers, the levy would allow for a pay raise for existing officers of $2,700 to $4,000, depending on rank. A starting deputy's salary would increase from $24,600 to around $27,600, Snyder said.

Salaries still will not equal those in surrounding states, but they will be competitive to what police in Jefferson County and Martinsburg make, Snyder said.

The levy would generate $2.8 million over its three-year life span.

The school levy


Thomas Fletcher, who teaches reading and math at Berkeley Heights Elementary, said the school levy is very important.

"There's not a school employee in the county that would not be affected if it failed," he said.

The issue of textbooks alone makes the levy vital, Fletcher said.

With the levy in place, the county is able to provide every student with all the textbooks they need for every year they are in school.

Should the levy fail, parents would have to buy all of their child's textbooks. A first-grader's books alone cost $335, Fletcher said.

The levy, which generates nearly $12.8 million every year for the school system, pays the salaries of 72 service workers and 26 professional workers the state does not pay for, covers coaches' salaries and helps pay for extracurricular activities.

"It's really the life of the school system," Fletcher said.

Schools Superintendent Manny Arvon said it's important that people realize a levy is not the same as a bond. A bond is somewhat like a loan which allows school systems to build new schools or repair old ones and is paid for over time.

A levy consists of taxes people pay each year. For the school levy, the rate is 45 cents per $100 of assessed Class II property - or $450 a year for a $100,000 home. Every penny is used locally, Arvon said.

"(A levy) lets you make your school district special," Arvon said. "These dollars provide us the opportunity to give all of our children a quality education."

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