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Funding provided for Martinsburg Police Department due to expire in 2014

February 16, 2013|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The Martinsburg Police Department’s roster has swelled from 29 to 50 officers, and calls for their service also have increased after a voter-approved police levy went into effect in 1990, according to city records.

The levy, which has provided funding for nine of the 21 positions that have been added to the department, is set to expire June 30, 2014, unless it is renewed by city voters.

A public hearing is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 28, at 6:30 p.m. on the Martinsburg City Council’s proposal to hold a special election May 11 to decide the levy renewal question.

The hearing will be held in council chambers on the second floor of City Hall at 232 N. Queen St. The council is expected to vote on the adoption of an ordinance to hold the election following the hearing.

City leaders are proposing to renew the levy for five fiscal years at the same rates that currently are in effect.

If renewed, the owner of a residential property valued at $100,000 would receive a $63 tax bill, officials have said. The tax bill for a commercial property valued at $100,000 would be double that amount.

Based on assessed property values for 2012, the levy is projected to generate $1,083,217, but that revenue figure likely will fluctuate over the levy’s five-year span given anticipated changes in the real estate market, city Finance Director Mark Spickler said.

If the city did not have levy revenue on hand from previous years, Spickler said the city would have been pinched to fund the nine officers without increasing the current levy rates of 10.5 cents per $100 of assessed value on residential property and 21 cents per $100 of assessed value on commercial property.

The downturn in property values is to blame, but Spickler said it is anticipated that the real estate market will improve in the years to come, so the rates were left unchanged for the proposed levy renewal.

The revenue is used to pay for the nine officers’ salaries, benefits, uniforms, equipment, vehicles and other items needed to maintain staffing. Any excess funding is used exclusively for police department operations, according to the ordinance.

Given ever-increasing numbers of calls for service, Chief Kevin Miller said last week that the loss of the levy-funded officers would have a significant impact on the department’s ability to provide service.

Last year, Martinsburg police received more than 31,000 calls for service, which was more than 6,500 higher than 2003, according to statistics cited by Miller. Since 2000, the city has annexed more than 900 acres and since 1990, the city’s population has grown by more than 3,100 to about 17,200 in 2010, according to city and census records.

Last year, the city said it made more than 4,500 adult and juvenile arrests, according to statistics maintained by the department.

When asked if he felt the department’s current staffing level was adequate, Miller said yes, but also revealed that he has requested to hire four additional officers again this year due to increasing calls for service.

Aside from the nine positions supported through the levy, Spickler said the city has been able to use federal grant funding to hire additional officers since 1990. The Berkeley County Board of Education also has partnered with the city’s police department to assign an officer to Martinsburg High School. The school board has a similar agreement place for the county’s other two high schools outside the city.

In 2008, little more than 1,100 voters went to the polls for the police levy election, which easily passed with more than 75 percent voting for renewal, city officials have said. To be renewed, the excess levy question has to be approved by at least 60 percent of voters.

The levy’s inception came about after the community became inundated with drug trafficking in the 1980s.


Berkeley County levy fails

A similar police levy proposed by Berkeley County in 2002 to provide funding to hire more sheriff’s deputies was supported by about 55 percent of the voters, falling short of the 60 percent threshold required for approval.

There currently are 58 deputies with the sheriff’s department, including four assigned full time to the Berkeley County Judicial Center and supervisors, Sheriff Kenneth Lemaster said. When the county attempted to pass a police levy, there were 39 deputies.

From 1990 to 2010, the county’s total population, including the city of Martinsburg, increased by nearly 45,000 to 104,169, according to census records.

Before being re-elected to another four-year term in November, Lemaster said he would like to increase the ranks of the sheriff’s department’s law-enforcement division to reduce the deputies’ workload given increased demands for service. Last year, the department received more than 40,000 calls for service, Lemaster said.

Given the department’s current size, Lemaster said scheduling can be difficult, especially while deputies have to obtain required training and are not available.

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