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Lawmakers in W.Va. push locality pay

July 27, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

MARTINSBURG, W.VA.

charlestown@herald-mail.com

Saying that low pay for state employees such as teachers is causing a "crisis in the Eastern Panhandle," at least eight local state lawmakers teamed up Tuesday to call attention to the issue.

Specifically, the lawmakers want their colleagues to seriously consider passage of "locality pay," which is higher pay awarded to state employees in certain areas to help them offset higher costs of living in places such as the Eastern Panhandle.

Lawmakers said passage of locality pay is vital to stem the loss of good state workers in the Eastern Panhandle to higher-paying jobs in neighboring states.

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West Virginia State Police troopers and teachers in the Eastern Panhandle are among the state employees who often leave the area for better-paying jobs, and teachers can enjoy about a $20,000 pay increase by going to neighboring states, Del. John Overington said Tuesday afternoon at a press conference at the state Department of Health and Human Resources office in the Mid-Atlantic Parkway in Martinsburg.

Other local state institutions that have trouble keeping employees due to low pay include Shepherd University, according to material lawmakers passed out at the press conference.

Among 10 "peer institutions" with which Shepherd University is associated, Shepherd's average faculty pay is $3,100 less than the aggregate average of the 10 other schools and Shepherd's average salary is the third worst in the group, the handout said.

The information is contained in a letter to lawmakers sent by John M. Sherwood, chairman of the Shepherd University Board of Governors, highlighting the pay problems.

Sherwood said in his letter that the low pay is leading to "dangerously high levels of turnover" at the Shepherdstown, W.Va., university.

Public school officials in Jefferson and Berkeley counties have been calling attention to the fact that they have been hiring more than 100 employees a year.

"We're here because we have a crisis in the Eastern Panhandle," said Overington, R-Berkeley.

Overington said the main factor that is making state pay inadequate is local housing costs, which have "gone out of sight."

Overington was joined at the press conference by Dels. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley; Vic Roberts, R-Berkeley; Walter Duke, R-Berkeley; and Sen. John Yoder, R-Jefferson.

Another press conference on the issue was held later at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Charles Town, W.Va., and Dels. John Doyle, D-Jefferson; Locke Wysong, D-Jefferson, Bob Tabb, D-Jefferson, and Overington were among those present.

The delegates at the Martinsburg press conference said they want Gov. Joe Manchin to include the issue of locality pay on the agenda for an expected special session of the Legislature in September.

Lawmakers gave reporters a copy of a letter they plan to send to Manchin asking the governor to include locality pay on the agenda for the special session of the Legislature. They also gave out petitions to be distributed and filled out by state employees as a way to push for locality pay.

The petitions are to be returned to Yoder or Mary Jo Brown, Manchin's regional representative.

"We're working together as a team in this. It's not a one-man show," Overington said.

Blair said Manchin often declared since his victory in last November's general election that "West Virginia is open for business."

If that is true, said Blair, "he needs to pay attention to us up here."

A representative of the state police and representatives from the Berkeley County Education Association - which represents local teachers - also attended the Martinsburg press conference.

Marty Soltis, co-president of the Berkeley County Education Association, said a teaching colleague in Berkeley County told him this week about a teaching job the person was taking in Loudoun County, Va.

The pay increase for the teacher will be about $30,000, putting the person's salary at about $80,000, Soltis said.

"We'll never be able to compete with that," Soltis said.

Some lawmakers said passage of locality pay will be tough.

Doyle said increasing numbers of lawmakers are sympathetic to the pay problem in the Eastern Panhandle but are afraid to support it because their constituents do not see it as a fair way to deal with the issue.

Rallies in support of locality pay for teachers, state troopers and other state employees in the Eastern Panhandle are scheduled tonight in Jefferson County and Thursday in Berkeley County. Both rallies are scheduled from 7 to 9 p.m.

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