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Berkeley County OKs phones-for-raises swap

July 25, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The Berkeley County Commission on Thursday allowed Sheriff Randy Smith to turn in his department's cell phones to save $40,000 to be used for pay raises for deputies despite a dissenting vote from one commissioner who said the move would not be fair to other county employees.

Although county officials will have to compute exactly how much each deputy may receive, it is estimated it might be $800 extra per year for each deputy, county officials said.

Commission President Howard Strauss voted against the proposal, saying it would be "destructive" to county government because only deputies would benefit from the move.

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Strauss predicted the commissioners would begin to see other county officials coming forward to propose other ways to get raises for their employees.

"From a fairness standpoint, it would be a mistake. We shouldn't be providing preferential treatment for one office," Strauss said.

Smith has been concerned about losing deputies because of low pay for his deputies. The issue comes at a time when the sheriff's department and other local police agencies have been struggling to keep up with an increased workload.

Police have said they are having trouble finding time to investigate certain types of crimes because they do not have enough officers.

West Virginia State Police have said they are worried about the public being the victim in the situation.

The $40,000 for pay raises was saved when Smith agreed to turn in all the cell phones used by his deputies. There are 41 deputies in the department.

The cell phones were purchased for deputies earlier in the year to act as a backup communication system after the county's radio system began experiencing problems.

Commissioner Steve Teufel, who made the motion for the commissioners to approve the pay raise plan Thursday, said the $40,000 saved should be plugged into the deputies' salary step increase plan.

Teufel, who was joined by Commissioner John Wright in approving the pay increase, said he wanted the pay increase for deputies because he was concerned about the county losing deputies to higher paying jobs.

That caused Strauss to ask Smith how many vacancies he had in his department.

Smith said he had none.

Strauss asked 911 center director Mary Kackley how many vacancies she had in her department.

Kackley said she had seven openings out of 16 positions.

Teufel said he would be willing to talk about ways to raise 911 dispatcher pay, or any other county office pay to help them keep workers.

"There's the door. If they want to come and ask, let them ask," Teufel said.

Smith said just because he has no openings does not mean he is not short on deputies.

Smith said he has three deputies away for training at the West Virginia State Police Academy in Institute, W.Va. One deputy is on military leave and two deputies are new hires, who are still working with a training officer, Smith said.

"Just because we have the slots filled doesn't mean we have the officers out there," Smith said.

Chief Deputy Kenny Lemaster said he is not worried about deputies having difficulty communicating now that their cell phones are being turned in. Many have their own cell phones they use on the job, and the commissioners agreed to purchase equipment Thursday to upgrade the county's radio system, Lemaster said.

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