Cops and Courts, Latest News, Preston County

Police discuss salary variation across counties

KINGWOOD — Salaries vary widely among sheriff’s departments in West Virginia.

Preston County deputy sheriffs, like other county employees, still hope to receive a raise this year from the Preston County Commission.

Preston, like other departments in West Virginia, faces challenges attracting and keeping officers. Salaries are a part of that puzzle, departments say.

County commissions set the budgets for sheriffs, and those budgets dictate how many officers are hired and their salaries.

Preston County deputies start at $32,000 per year. The only guaranteed raise is $60 additional per year set by Civil Service. Other raises come when the county commission allocates raises.

In FY 2018-2019, full-time Preston County employees received $1,000 raises. No raises were given officers last fiscal year or so far in the current one.

The department’s longest serving deputy, who has been 20 years with the department, earns $46,108 yearly.

Preston has 20 deputy positions. One is currently open. By law deputy sheriffs in West Virginia must be hired through the Civil Service system. That starts with a written and physical exam.

Preston Chief Deputy Paul “Moe” Pritt recalls 93 people took the test when he was hired. Sixteen applied to take the most recent test, eight took the test and three passed.

Nationally, people are not as likely to join law enforcement as in the past, Pritt noted. It’s a 24/7 job, with weekend, night and holiday shifts to cover.

“I get people who say you signed up to do it and this is what you get paid to do, but we didn’t sign up to fight people and have people attack us on social media and in the newspaper and on the street and at the domestic and at the traffic stop,” Pritt said.

“There’s a total lack of respect, not only for the police,” he said.

The county commission does try to provide up-to-date equipment for the department, Pritt said. The department supplements that through grants and money obtained through seizures.

Preston County government’s total budget for all departments in fiscal year 2020-21 is $8,559,531 — about $375,000 less than last year’s. Commissioners point to lower tax collections.

Neighboring Monongalia County has a budget of $37,883,000 and funds 42 deputies, with a starting salary of $43,908.

Other counties

Mon Sheriff Perry Palmer said after two years at a grade, officers can test to move up in rank, which leads to higher salaries. Sergeants get another $1,200 per year, first sergeants $1,800 per year and lieutenants $2,400. Mon doesn’t use the ranks of corporal or deputy first class.

Palmer said they too have more trouble than in the past getting applicants, and it’s the first time in a year the department has been fully staffed.
Raises are “usually what the county gives [employees], but I’ve been able to get them a couple raises,” Palmer said.

“Actually our county commission’s been pretty good to us,” Sheriff Palmer said. “I don’t have any complaints about our county commission. They pretty much take care of us.”

Taylor County has eight road deputies. Uncertified officers — those who haven’t completed training at the State Police Academy — start at $32,500. Certified officers earn a starting salary of $37,500.

Taylor County’s budget for all county departments totals about $9 million. Taylor County Sheriff Terry A. Austin said for about two years the county has offered a $5,000 bonus to certified officers. Those who don’t work a certain period of time must repay part of the bonus.

“We do that to try to get certified officers that might move into Taylor County and to get them with our department,” Austin said. “Cause the bigger counties: Mon, Marion, Harrison counties, they have a lot more revenue and offer more money, so it’s hard for us to compete.”

Taylor’s eight positions are full, but it could use three more, Austin said. He would like to put a certified deputy in county schools, but the number of calls countywide is increasing.

Austin said when going to the county commission to request raises, “you have to work hard, show the work load that you have for your county and then they see that it’s there, the amount of calls, the amount of work that you actually do, the workload. That was our approach.”

“A lot of times they don’t realize how much work,” there is, he said.

Tucker County, which also adjoins Preston, has four deputies. New deputies start at $30,000 per year.

Greenbrier County, which like Preston is large, mainly rural and a Class I county, offers starting deputies $37,564.80 if they are not certified and $38,764.80 if they are certified. The county has 30 deputy sheriff positions, with three currently open.

“Believe it or not, the Town of Lewisburg is offering more,” Greenbrier Sheriff Bruce Sloan said.

He agreed recruitment is a problem nationally but the department has some good applicants currently who are being considered for hiring, Sloan said.