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Preston County losing sheriff’s deputies over working conditions

KINGWOOD — Preston County is losing sheriff’s deputies due to low pay and complaints about working conditions caused by the flooding in December.

The latest letter of resignation dropped the county’s allotted 20 deputies to 14.

“I am writing you to announce that I have decided to resign my employment from the Preston County sheriff’s office effective February 5, 2024. I appreciate the opportunity that Sheriff Pritt and the Preston County Sheriff’s Office has given me to develop my professional skills and my career,” the latest deputy to resign wrote.

The letter conties by saying the decision was based on deputies in Preston County being among the lowest paid in the state.

It alleged that those in Preston make $10,000-$15,000 less than deputies in surrounding counties.

“The Preston County Commission has refused to help the Preston County Sheriff’s Office with any additional pay for Deputies causing the Preston County Sheriff’s Office to frequently lose Deputies,” the letter reads.

The author also claims the office is not a suitable work space because deputies must all work in one “small office with only two working computers.”

Starting pay for certified deputies at the Preston County Sheriff’s Department is $36,000 a year, according to Sheriff Paul “Moe” Pritt. In comparison, Rhonda Ridenour, Kingwood City Clerk said, uncertified city police officers start at $33,280 a year, and certified officers start at $41,600 a year.

Adam Crawford, vice president of the West Virginia Fraternal Order of Police, said it is difficult to recruit and keep police officers.

“It’s on each municipality to incentive their officers to stay,” he said. “Many leave to go to another law enforcement agency or to the private sector where they receive more pay.”

Commissioner Samantha Stone said low salaries are based on the amount of money the commission has to work with.

“I would like to give them more, but our tax revenue is what we have to work with,” she said. “You are competing with counties around you that can pay more.”

Unlike other county employees, members of the sheriff’s department are sometimes placed in dangerous situations. Pritt said he would be “hard pressed” to find a deputy in his department that has not been injured on the job.

“We’ve have to fight people with knives and guns. We’ve had people cut. When you are fighting people who used a combination of drugs you don’t know what they will do,” he said. “One of the worst fights I got into was a domestic call in the middle of Cranesville and my backup was coming from Morgantown, a trooper they sent out.”

He said it seems that no one wants to spend money on the police unless they need one.

“My biggest gripe is that we have fewer and fewer people and more work expected of us,” Pritt said. “We’ve been working out of one 10×12 office, with the exception of two people upstairs and a couple in the annex. We’re constantly having video issues. I’ve been working on this (video issues) for two years.”
He said his deputies will soon be cut even thinner with the addition of a second circuit judge and second courtroom next year.