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Berkeley County Sheriff: 'We're not being competitive' with deputy salaries

June 02, 2013|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Since March, four Berkeley County sheriff’s deputies have tendered their resignation for a variety of reasons, but the department’s comparatively low — “bottom of the list” — salaries certainly are not helping retain officers, Sheriff Kenneth Lemaster said Friday.

“You look around and we're not being competitive,” Lemaster said of the county’s $30,548 starting salary for certified, entry-level deputies.

Compared to other law enforcement agencies in the Eastern Panhandle, Berkeley County’s starting salary for deputies is more than $6,000 less than Shepherdstown, W.Va.’s municipal police department and even further behind practically every other municipal and county agency in Berkeley and Jefferson counties, according to a survey of starting salaries last week.

Harpers Ferry, W.Va., currently does not have a set salary for entry-level officers, but town Treasurer Kathryn Payne said the small Jefferson County municipality is working to make such a determination. Regardless, the lowest-ranking officer in Harpers Ferry’s department of four officers, including the chief, is being paid more than $30,000, Payne said.

Lemaster said the salary gap between his department and the City of Martinsburg, for example, would be much smaller had annual $1,000 salary increases been possible in the last several years. Entry-level certified officers in Martinsburg are paid more than $9,000 more than Berkeley County deputies, according to salary figures.

The Berkeley County Council this year approved budget allocations to allow for the sheriff and other elected county officers to give each of their employees an across-the-board $1,000 pay increase, effective July 1.

The raises were the first for county employees since October 2010. The council, the county’s budget-making arm of the government, has resisted giving salary increases due at least in part to the economic recession.

Lemaster said he totally agrees that individuals who get into law enforcement should be doing it because they have the heart to do the work, but maintains deputies still should be adequately paid for what they do.

The deputies who tendered their resignations were Nathan Cosner, whose last day with the department was April 4; Robert Grove and Kevin Huffman, who left Friday; and Deputy Daniel Clarke, whose last day is Wednesday.

“They look at the finances and they say they can’t make it,” Lemaster said. 

Grove’s salary was $31,464 after six years with the department, according to Lemaster’s memo to the Berkeley County Council and county employment records.

In his resignation letter, Grove said he enjoyed working for the sheriff’s department and appreciated the support he was provided.

Clarke, who has worked for the department since 2004, is being paid $35,240, according to a separate memo from Lemaster to the county council and employment records. 

“This wasn’t an easy decision because I am grateful for the employment I’ve had with this department,” Clarke said in his May 22 resignation letter to Lemaster.

“After long hours of consideration, I have decided to accept a position with another agency that will further my growth and development in my career.”  

Huffman, who worked for the department since 2007, was being paid $31,464, according to Lemaster’s notification to the council.

Cosner was hired in October 2011 at the county’s current entry-level salary. His salary at the time of his resignation was not specified by the sheriff, according to county documents.

Lemaster said he hopes to fill the vacancies in the next few months, but will now have to shift personnel around to fill the holes in the 58-deputy department.

Deputies currently assigned to Musselman and Hedgesville high schools will be available to help offset the loss after the school year ends this week, Lemaster said.

Lemaster said he hopes to eliminate two captain positions in the department and create three corporal positions as part of an effort to restructure the department’s rank structure.

The result of such a streamlining move could allow the redistribution of salary money for the higher-paid captains to lower-ranking deputies, but that wouldn’t be enough to close the salary gap between his department and other area law enforcement agencies, according to Lemaster.  

Aside from the salary issue, Lemaster said he intends to continue to work on efforts to increase the number of deputies in the department.

“We’re behind the eight ball as far as staffing,” Lemaster said.

Minimum starting salaries for certified officers at their respective police agencies:

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Ranson, W.Va.: $42,300
Jefferson County (W.Va.) Sheriff’s Department: $42,300
Charles Town, W.Va.: $39,936
Martinsburg, W.Va.: $39,608
Shepherdstown, W.Va.: $37,003
Berkeley County (W.Va.) Sheriff’s Department: $30,548

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