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Berkeley sheriff says department in red

March 10, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va.-- Windows 95 is still in use at the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department. So are a number of vehicles that have more than 100,000 miles on the odometer. Three have been "parked" recently because of mechanical breakdown and money to fix them or buy new vehicles is scarce, if available at all.

"My law enforcement budget hit the red in January," Sheriff Kenneth M. "Kenny" Lemaster Jr. told Berkeley County Commissioners and their staff on Tuesday.

Since taking office in January, Lemaster said "counting pennies" when there could be millions of dollars and lives at stake has been frustrating and stressful.

Lemaster was the last of five county elected officers who reviewed their budget proposals with the commissioners, who had their legal counsel Norwood Bentley III ask most of the questions.

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Bentley said in a brief interview that the commission asked him to ask the sheriff, prosecuting attorney, assessor, county clerk and circuit clerk about their budgets for legal purposes. The proposed budget for the commissioners -- $623,669 -- was not part of Tuesday's special meeting.

Lemaster was the only elected officer of the five Tuesday who said he would not be able to operate his department on the amount of money that was allocated for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

"No sir, I've got shortfalls right now," Lemaster told County Commission President Ronald K. Collins. "I had shortfalls when I took office."

In response to County Administrator Deborah Hammond, Lemaster said the purchase of four new cruisers would do little to lower maintenance and repairs costs for the department, given the number of vehicles that have higher mileage yet have not been taken out of service.

Less-visible mandates on the sheriff's department, such as serving court-generated documents like writs of execution or family protective orders, have also grown with the number of judges added in recent years, Lemaster said.

Sheriff's Department Capt. Cheryl Keller told commissioners on Tuesday that the department daily serves about 100 "papers" for court proceedings involving matters such as child support and debt collection.

"It shocked me," Keller said upon discovering the volume of legal documents the sheriff's department is obligated by state code to handle.

Given the unpredictable nature of the demands placed on the department, Lemaster gave no indication he would reduce his budget request when asked by Commissioner William L. "Bill" Stubblefield.

Commissioner Anthony J. "Tony" Petrucci said he viewed the county's safety and well-being as his main goal and after the meeting said the sheriff's department's needs are due special consideration.

Like other elected officials, Lemaster also requested enough money to give his employees a $1,000 pay increase.

Before meeting with Lemaster, Stubblefield commended County Clerk John W. Small Jr. for "looking out for his employees" and asking for a $1,000 pay increase, but the commissioner said he didn't feel right about giving out money for raises while county residents were suffering through an economic downturn.

Small said he was agreeable to making budget concessions, including the money for a pay increase, as long as no other department or employees individually received an increase.

"If the rest of them play ball with you, I will, too," Small said of the other elected officials.

2009-10 Berkeley County budget requests

Prosecuting attorney - $1,379,761

Assessor - $847,000

Circuit clerk - $1,181,159

County clerk - $1,406,031

Sheriff's department - $6,382,964

County commission - $623,669

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