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Commission, prosecutor spar over pay raises

February 06, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A week after members of the Berkeley County Commission lambasted prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely outside of her presence for buying desks without permission and giving her assistant prosecutors a raise, Games-Neely fought back Thursday morning.

"I apparently got disrespected by this commission" last week, Games-Neely began.

She then told the commissioners that she has the authority to spend her budget as she deems necessary, which includes giving her assistant prosecutors a raise.

When a senior prosecutor resigned last month, Games-Neely hired a new law school graduate. She wanted to use the difference in salary to give her four remaining prosecutors a raise. Three would receive raises of $3,775 while the fourth would receive a raise of $4,275.

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With the increases, salaries would range from $45,775 to $62,475, for the most experienced prosecutor in her office.

The starting salary is $36,800 - far below what prosecutors can make in other areas, Games-Neely said.

If they did not receive raises, three of Games-Neely's four assistants were prepared to resign and take better-paying jobs elsewhere, she said.

Along with the senior prosecutor, another assistant prosecutor resigned in December and also was replaced with a new law school graduate, she said.

Unlike other county employees, prosecutors are classified as professional employees who require specific training. They cannot be hired or replaced on a whim, Games-Neely said.

Raises are needed not only to increase the salary, but also to compensate for an increased caseload. So far this year, 148 felony charges and 636 misdemeanor charges have been filed in Magistrate Court. Those numbers do not reflect cases from past years that are still pending, including several murder cases.

Commissioners Howard Strauss and Steve Teufel said they were bothered by the fact that assistant prosecutors could be getting a raise of around $6,000 this year. Last year, commissioners gave all county employees a two-step raise, which equaled $2,000 for assistant prosecutors.

Commissioner John Wright did not attend the meeting.

If Games-Neely insisted on giving the raises, Strauss said, they should take effect on July 1, not immediately. Ultimately, Strauss said, the extra money will come from taxpayers.

Games-Neely argued that she merely moved around money already in her budget.

Strauss then made statements implying he was not going to give Games-Neely any additional money for her upcoming fiscal year budget, which takes effect July 1.

County Attorney Norwood Bentley warned commissioners not to do anything "arbitrary or capricious." Commissioners must look at all incoming revenue and all submitted budgets before making any fiscal decisions, he said.

Strauss replied that he would not give the four prosecutors in question a raise for the upcoming year.

With a warning tone, Bentley said that might be Strauss' position now, but that he's sure Strauss has an open mind with regard to raises and budgets.

"I'm sure you're not making your mind up at this time. I'm sure that's not what you meant," Bentley said.

Backing down, Strauss answered that he was "formulating." He said that "for the record," commissioners would look at the revenue stream before making any decisions.

Also during the half-hour discussion, commissioners said they were upset that Games-Neely bought several desks for around $700 each without seeking county approval. All purchases of more than $500 are to be approved by the commissioners.

Games-Neely argued that is not always possible, especially since the county took away each department head's fund to buy equipment. Plus, she said, she planned to buy the desks using forfeiture money from criminal cases prosecuted by her office.

Games-Neely said she was able to buy the for much less because they were used.

A couple of years ago, Games-Neely asked for desks, but was told to wait as long as possible. As long as possible turned out to be when the old desks started collapsing, she said.

The discussion ended abruptly when Teufel said he had nothing more to say.

Later, he said no vote was taken or needed on either matter because Games-Neely is allowed to make internal budget revisions.

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