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Berkeley County Council approves pay scale increases for deputies

Move helps close gap with other area law enforcement agencies

June 27, 2013|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew@herald-mail.com
  • Lemaster
Lemaster

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The Berkeley County Council voted 4-1 Thursday to approve the county sheriff’s three-year plan to close the gap between deputies’ pay and the salaries of Martinsburg Police Department officers.

County Councilman Douglas E. Copenhaver Jr. voted against the proposal, which will cost $160,000 to $200,000 for the first year of the plan, but insisted he wasn’t against providing deputies with a more competitive wage.

An entry-level county deputy currently is paid $30,548, which Sheriff Kenneth Lemaster Jr. told council members hasn’t changed since 2006 and is about $9,000 less than an entry-level Martinsburg police officer.

The disparity in salaries is even greater when compared with other nearby police agencies, but Lemaster said he was not trying to catch up with them.

Lemaster said the county has been “a training ground” for other jurisdictions in the past and will continue to be if salary adjustments are not made. He noted the loss of four officers since this spring and said others have talked to him about leaving for jobs elsewhere.

Copenhaver insisted Lemaster could have already given salary increases to the department’s more than 50 deputies, citing thousands of dollars in the sheriff’s budget that had not been spent.

In each of the last three fiscal years, which end on June 30, the sheriff has returned more than $500,000 in budgeted funds to county coffers, according to the finance division of Berkeley County Clerk John W. Small Jr.’s office.

In 2011, Lemaster returned about $760,000 in unspent funds, according to county finance records.

Lemaster said that unspent money was returned to the county’s general fund from eight different budgets that he manages, including county tax collection, courthouse security and animal control.

“I have a couple budget (lines) that have nothing left in them,” Lemaster said after Thursday’s council meeting.

Copenhaver noted that Lemaster had budgeted, but not filled, the chief deputy position in his law-enforcement division since he took office in 2009.

Copenhaver said Lemaster also did not act on a deputy salary plan that was previously offered by County Operations Officer Alan Davis.

“I think everything was done except for you pulling the trigger,” Copenhaver told Lemaster in a tense exchange.

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Lemaster told Copenhaver that he couldn’t implement pay raises without the council’s backing, because he could not guarantee he would have as much unspent revenue in future years. 

“You’re basically accusing me of being too frugal,” Lemaster told Copenhaver.

Lemaster also said the sheriff’s department has to be in a position to respond to unexpected demands for service.
“The other elected officials are not like the power company,” Lemaster said.

Council attorney Norwood Bentley III said the body has no authority to decide how each of the other county’s elected officers spend the lump-sum appropriation they receive each year from the council to run their respective departments.

“The law says that (Lemaster) could implement the pay increase as long as he does not go into deficit,” Bentley said.

If there is not a deficit posed by what would be an internal budget revision, the council has little option but to approve it, according to Bentley.

County Councilman Jim Barnhart, who retired from the county health department before being elected to office, said he knows how it feels to be underpaid and was “amazed” to learn that deputies were being paid $31,000 a year.

“God bless you all for staying here for what you’re making,” Barnhart told about two dozen deputies who attended Thursday’s meeting.

In addition to the pay issue, Lemaster told council members that an increase in manpower also needs to be addressed.

Council President Anthony J. “Tony” Petrucci told Lemaster he believed he was “heading in the right direction” with the salary scale changes proposed to try to address retention.

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