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Martinsburg voters overwhelmingly renew police levy

June 11, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Martinsburg residents on Tuesday overwhelmingly voted to renew the city's police levy, despite trying economic conditions, soaring gas prices and a tax increase approved this year by the Berkeley County Commission.

Of 1,135 ballots cast, 806 residents (77 percent) voted for the levy and 242 residents (23 percent) voted against it, according to complete but unofficial results.

To be renewed, the excess levy question had to be approved by at least 60 percent of voters.

"It's overwhelming," Chief T.C. "Ted" Anderson said after the results were announced by City Recorder Sharon A. Flick.

"We've had votes before that have just crossed the (necessary) margin," Anderson said. Tuesday's winning margin was "the highest we've ever had."

Anderson said he couldn't thank the voters who came out and supported the levy enough and said he hoped to continue to work hard to keep the department in good standing with the community.

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Projected to generate $1.2 million for the 2008-09 police department budget, the levy money is committed to the salary, benefits, equipment and training of nine police officers. Any remaining money is used for the police department, and in past years has been spent on vehicles and support personnel.

The levy rate renewed will generate a $63 tax bill for the owner of a residential property that is valued at $100,000, officials have said.

In effect since 1990, the levy essentially adds three additional officers to each work shift. The levy's inception came about after the community became inundated with drug trafficking in the 1980s.

In an interview last week, Anderson said Martinsburg and the surrounding communities in the Eastern Panhandle are still battling drug trafficking problems.

"I can tell you, our heroin trade is driven by the City of Baltimore," Anderson said. "You can get on Interstate 70 and if you don't have any heroin, in an hour and 15 minutes, you can probably have all you want by driving to Baltimore."

"I've got friends in the Maryland State Police and it's just unbelievable the amount of cars they tell me that they see ... West Virginia cars coming up and down the road, even in the middle of night shifts ... and they have an idea of what's taking place," Anderson said.

Anderson said the city's crime rate still is "relatively low."

In addition to the "the basics," Anderson said the levy's renewal has also allowed for community policing programs, police academies, ride-a-long program, vehicle unlocks and funeral escorts, among other services.

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