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Raises not enough, officials say

September 15, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - West Virginia lawmakers gave raises this week to teachers, state police troopers and other state employees, but it is not enough to keep the workers in the Eastern Panhandle from continuing to cross state lines in search of higher-paying jobs, officials said Wednesday.

"I recognize we have to do more. I think the governor recognizes that," said Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley.

During a special session Tuesday in Charleston, W.Va., legislators approved a $1,350 raise for troopers, teachers, correctional workers and juvenile service workers.

All other state employees were given a $900 raise, lawmakers said.

A push has been under way to give pay raises to state employees, and lawmakers said the need is especially acute in the Eastern Panhandle, where state employees are facing high costs of living.

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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, lawmakers have said.

Other local institutions which have trouble keeping employees due to low pay include Shepherd University, which has been witnessing "dangerously high levels of turnover," a university official has said.

Sen. John Yoder, R-Jefferson, said Wednesday that the $1,350 raise for troopers is "woefully inadequate." He said the Senate was pushing for a $2,700 pay raise for troopers.

Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, wanted the larger raise, citing a series of recent high-profile murders in his district, including a quadruple homicide in Huntington, W.Va., this summer.

"I feel very strongly that we have been lulled into a false sense of security with our relatively low crime rate in the past," Jenkins said.

Jefferson County Schools Superintendent R. Steven Nichols said he was thankful that lawmakers were able to make some progress on teacher salaries.

Nichols said his concern is boosting salaries for younger teachers, which is the type of instructors Jefferson County is primarily hiring.

Nichols said he has not looked at the pay raise plan, but said it appears it benefits mostly teachers with more years of service.

West Virginia State Police Sgt. C.C. Morton, who is based in Martinsburg, said the $1,350 pay raise for troopers is a start to beefing up salaries for officers. But it will not be enough to stop the exodus of troopers to other states, Morton said.

Eastern Panhandle lawmakers were also pushing for "locality pay" for state employees, which is higher pay awarded to state employees in certain areas to help offset higher costs of living.

The measure got little support in other parts of the state.

Unger said he wants to push for a multiyear pay raise for state employees and is hopeful the issue can be taken up in the regular legislative session in January.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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