High cost of insurance prompts turnover of Berkeley deputies

August 24, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A Berkeley County Sheriff's Department deputy is resigning because of the cost of the county's insurance policies for family coverage.

Deputy Jack Fleagle has accepted a law enforcement job with the Shepherdstown (W.Va.) Police Department, where coverage for his family is free, Fleagle said in an Aug. 13 memo to Sheriff W. Randy Smith.

"The health insurance in Berkeley County is just too costly for me," Fleagle said in his resignation.

Fleagle's departure comes a few months after the Berkeley County Commission decided to spend about half of the $280,000 that was set aside for county employee insurance benefits.

Smith could not say Friday how many deputies have resigned because of insurance costs, but noted the expense has been a problem since he first was elected in 2000.


"There have been others that have left for that reason," Smith said. "I couldn't tell you how many."

Smith said if his deputies' salaries were more competitive, the insurance costs wouldn't pose a problem.

In the 2007-08 fiscal year that ended June 30, Fleagle was one of more than 20 deputies who were paid less than $40,000 per year, according to county compensation records. Even with the insurance adjustments approved by the county commission in May, a county employee who elects to enroll in a family insurance plan would have to pay more than $10,000 per year for the policy, according to a spreadsheet of the various insurance plan options released in May.

The county's contribution to the insurance plan was increased by 10 percent, or $547 per employee, for a total of $6,017. When asked in May whether that would be enough to slow the exodus of deputies from the sheriff's department, commission President Steven C. Teufel said he worked hard for five years to increase their salaries to more than $30,000 from $23,000.

But Smith said Friday that increase hasn't caught up with neighboring jurisdictions, where starting salaries are $10,000 higher.

"It was so far behind ... we've never been able to catch up," Smith said.

Smith said Friday there are six vacancies in the sheriff's department's Law Enforcement Division, but he hopes to hire new officers within the next month or so.

Yet with the county's ongoing budget problems, Smith doubts retention will ease when he leaves office in December.

Given across-the-board budget cuts approved for the current fiscal year, Smith doubted whether he would be able give any raises to his employees.

"I feel sorry for the next sheriff," Smith said.

Fleagle, who made his resignation effective Wednesday, said he would "dearly miss" working for the department and thanked everyone for their "guidance and patience."

"My decision to leave is a financial one, with the family benefit being the main factor," Fleagle said.

"He's an outstanding deputy, an asset to the community - an all-around good guy," Smith said of Fleagle. "He will be missed."

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