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Berkeley County budget wish list includes paid firefighters

March 14, 2013|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Berkeley County’s budget plan for the next fiscal year tentatively includes the addition of three paid firefighters and four full-time laborers for capital improvement projects.

One firefighter would be assigned to work at Back Creek Valley Volunteer Fire Department beginning July 1 and two others would be stationed with Hedgesville Volunteer Fire Department beginning Jan. 1, 2014, officials said.

The four full-time workers would replace four of several part-time employees who have previously been hired to work on the future headquarters for the Berkeley County sheriff’s law enforcement division at 510 S. Raleigh St.

County Council member Douglas E. Copenhaver Jr. said work done by the laborers to renovate the law enforcement division’s current headquarters to expand the county’s Central Dispatch/911 center would be reimbursed by the emergency communications operation.

The county’s 911 center is separately supported by E-911 fees collected by telephone service providers. The money is deposited into a special fund and exclusively used for the emergency communications department, according to the county's E911 plan adopted in August 2004.

Copenhaver said the county also could collect more rent revenue as a result of providing more space for the dispatch center.

The full-time laborers also are expected to work on the renovations at the county’s administrative building at 400 W. Stephen St. as part of efforts by the county to consolidate operations and make them more accessible to the public.

Copenhaver said savings in taxpayer dollars would be realized by hiring the laborer full-time, rather than have to contract out the work and pay prevailing wage labor costs.

County Council President Anthony J. “Tony” Petrucci said he was supportive of trying to financially work out the addition of the firefighters “down the road,” but cautioned Copenhaver and the other three council members from “getting caught up in the wants of the county,” rather than its needs.

Additional staffing and employee salary increases requested by Lemaster and the county’s other elected officers are expected to be reviewed by county council Tuesday. The salaries of the elected officials themselves would not change if a pay increase is approved, because they are set by the state Legislature.

Copenhaver said the additional firefighters would provide everybody in the county with the same level of services. Paid firefighters already have been hired and stationed with the county’s other three volunteer fire departments.

Copenhaver said legal issues involving the addition of a paid firefighter for Back Creek Valley still have to be worked through in order to make that move. The Berkeley County Emergency Ambulance Authority, which is funded through fees it collects, has been separately asked to have a paid member of their personnel at the Back Creek Valley department, Copenhaver said.

In her budget presentation Thursday, Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely did not ask for additional staffing, but did request $10,000 salary raises for her assistant prosecuting attorneys and $5,000 raises for legal assistants.

Games-Neely said after her presentation that the assistant prosecutors in her office are among the lowest paid of the state’s busiest, Class I counties.  

Games-Neely said assistant prosecutors in Hancock County, a Class III county, are being paid a starting salary of $60,000 to $70,000, but attorneys in her office with many more years of experience aren’t even being paid that amount.

Games-Neely’s salary increase requests join $1,000 across-the-board raises submitted by Lemaster, Assessor Larry Hess, Circuit Clerk Virginia M. Sine and John W. Small Jr.

Sine also asked county council to fund her office so she could hire three more staff for records-related work.

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