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State Senate backs trooper raise bill

September 13, 2005|by CANDICE BOSLEY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - State senators voted unanimously in special session Monday to give West Virginia State Police troopers another $2,700 a year in salary, but whether members of the House of Delegates will agree with the pay raise remains to be seen.

State Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley/Jefferson, said $2,700 a year won't solve all problems, especially given the high cost of living in the Eastern Panhandle, but he said he hopes it would help.

Five of the nine troopers now stationed in the Jefferson County barrack are considering leaving for jobs elsewhere because of a low salary and a high cost of living, Unger said.

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"I think it's a step in the right direction," Unger said of the proposed increase. "The morale right now among the troopers is so low."

To go into effect, the bill still needs to pass in the House of Delegates. Members there have approved giving teachers and other state employees, including troopers, raises ranging from $900 to $1,350.

Per the state's constitution, the Legislature is required to provide two services to its residents: A free education and a public safety system, Unger said.

Taking care of troopers - "who take care of us" - is an obligation, Unger said.

"I wanted to do more, but I'm glad we're doing something," he said.

Like others who want to buy a home in the Eastern Panhandle, troopers have found housing costs to be high, in part because of the area's proximity to Washington, D.C., Unger said.

Should a pay increase be granted during the special session of the legislature that is now under way, Unger said he still would want to revisit the matter during the regular session next January.

At that time, he said, he would propose increasing salaries even more.

While the bill passed, one aspect of it that Unger had hoped to include failed in the amendments stage.

Unger had hoped a provision calling for a location-based housing allowance would have made it into the final version of the bill.

The allowance would have been based on mortgage payments in different parts of the state. Troopers facing higher mortgage payments would have received an allowance to help offset the cost, Unger said.

Although the allowance would only have affected troopers, it could have been used as a precedent to allow for other similar allowances for other state employees, Unger said.

Also Monday, the House asked the Senate to reconsider its vote to rename the Friday after Thanksgiving as "Family Values Day."

Senate Democrats added the name to Manchin's bill (HB406) that would make that Friday an official state holiday. While never official, governors have traditionally given public workers that day off.

The new holiday comes at the expense of Lincoln's Birthday in February. Manchin's bill would combine it with Washington's Birthday later that month for a renamed Presidents Day.

The special session, which began Wednesday, is the fourth this year. It prompted lawmakers to cancel their previously scheduled series of interim meetings Monday. Lawmakers similarly expect to call off interim meetings Tuesday.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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