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Deputies say pay increases needed

April 25, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Twenty-five deputies appeared before the Berkeley County Commission Thursday afternoon seeking a pay increase, and several said some officers might quit for better-paying jobs if a raise is not granted.

A lieutenant with 26 years of experience at the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department makes less money than a starting police officer at the Ranson (W.Va.) Police Department, according to figures provided to commissioners.

That lieutenant, Cheryl Henry Keller, stood and addressed the commission after a two-hour discussion.

"Look at them," she said, motioning to the sea of black-clad officers seated behind her. "Can you give them something in good faith?"

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Commission President Howard Strauss said he will sit down with members of the sheriff's department and see if something can be done. He stopped short of saying a raise could be implemented this year.

A starting deputy in Berkeley County makes $24,622. A starting police officer in Ranson makes $33,790, while a starting Martinsburg Police Department officer makes $30,700 and a starting Jefferson County deputy makes $29,600, according to information handed out at the meeting by deputies.

"Our department is overwhelmed and underpaid," Lt. K.C. Bohrer said. "If we don't look at it soon, I'm afraid we're going to have a mass exodus."

Although deputies will receive a two-step increase this July, which amounts to $660 for a starting deputy, both Strauss and Commissioner Steve Teufel said that figure is too low. Commissioner John Wright did not attend Thursday's meeting.

"I'm not making any promises to you, but I'll work for you," Teufel said.

When Sheriff Randy Smith presented his budget, he asked that some officers receive raises of up to $4,000. Strauss said he made it known no raises more than $2,000 would be granted.

Other than the across-the-board two-step increase granted to every county employee, no money was included in the sheriff's budget for raises.

Smith said he needs $97,000 to give his deputies the raises he feels they need and deserve. In the long run, that's more cost-effective than hiring new officers constantly, he said.

"It takes forever to train a good cop. Forever," Smith said.

Along with pay, Deputy Keith Sigulinski said he was concerned with medical benefits. Other police departments pay from 50 percent to all of a family member's insurance. Berkeley County pays for none.

"I'm looking for a reason to stay," said Sigulinski, who has one child and another on the way.

Sigulinski said he makes $740 per pay period after taxes. If he paid for insurance for his family, he would make $267.50 a week.

When Sigulinski joked that deputies would need to live in a trailer to make ends meet, Strauss did not joke back.

"I'm a proud trailer-owner," Strauss said.

Deputy Jack Fleagle, a lifelong county resident, echoed the concerns.

"Putting on this uniform is not a job. It's a pleasure. It's an honor," said Fleagle, who said his current salary will not permit him to buy a house or start a family. "I love coming to work. And I want to keep coming to work."

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