Deputies make case for better pay in Berkeley County

June 20, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - With at least three high-ranking deputies at the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department eying higher-paying jobs elsewhere, County Commission President Howard Strauss said he will support a tax hike if it would increase police salaries.

The tax increase would not need to be placed on the ballot for a vote as long as a public hearing were held and at least two of the county's three commissioners approved it, Strauss said.

"I'm willing to bite the bullet of considering that option," Strauss said. However, he stressed that he wants Sheriff Randy Smith to be the one who asks that taxes be increased.


Strauss discussed the issue after Lt. K.C. Bohrer and three other officers with the sheriff's department came to the commission meeting Thursday morning to give an update on the salary situation.

Because of low pay, a 13-year veteran, who is a corporal, is considering taking a job with the Charles Town (W.Va.) Police Department. A 10-year investigator, also a corporal, might go to the Ranson (W.Va.) Police Department and a four-year deputy is debating whether to join the West Virginia State Police, Bohrer said.

All of those agencies, along with others in surrounding states, pay more than Berkeley County.

"They're ready to leave," Bohrer said. After the meeting, Bohrer said he has been approached twice about taking jobs elsewhere, including one that offered a starting salary that is $15,000 more than what he makes now.

Strauss argued that Berkeley County pays more than Morgan County, but deputies later said Morgan County's population and crime rate are significantly lower.

If a tax increase were approved, Strauss said it would not take effect during the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1. When that year begins, Strauss said the sheriff's department will find it received more money - $300,000 - than any other department.

"That shows our commitment, I think, to law enforcement," Strauss said.

In November's general election, a police levy that was on the ballot would have given deputies higher salaries. Although 55 percent of the county's voters checked the "yes" box, the levy needed a 60 percent super-majority to pass.

Countering previous statements, Strauss said Thursday that a 55 percent approval rate is enough justification for him to OK a tax hike. Neither Commissioner Steve Teufel or Commissioner John Wright said during the meeting whether they would support a tax increase. Wright did say he believes a levy would pass if placed on the ballot now.

A deputy in Berkeley County makes a starting salary of $24,622, while in neighboring Jefferson County deputies start at $29,600.

A starting, certified police officer in Ranson makes $33,790, while in Charles Town, starting salaries range from $30,763 to $32,427, depending on certification and experience, according to newspaper classified advertisements.

A starting Martinsburg Police Department officer makes $30,700, according to information compiled by Berkeley County deputies.

A state trooper makes $25,280 while attending the West Virginia State Police Academy. After graduating, the trooper's first-year salary jumps to $30,116, said Sgt. Deke Walker.

Along with a low starting salary, the pay does not adequately increase with experience, Chief Deputy Kenneth Lemaster said. For example, a lieutenant who has 26 years of experience at the sheriff's department makes less than a starting officer in Ranson, Bohrer previously said.

Commissioners did not take any action on the possible tax increase.

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