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Former officer says police are underpaid

My name is Alex Wyshyvanuk. I was an Elkins police officer for just over three years. I quit earlier this year because I was tired of making almost 40 percent less than officers in Morgantown and Bridgeport. Under the old pay system, our highest-paid officer made less money than a “day-one” recruit in Morgantown.

I still read The Inter-Mountain’s website daily because I do still care about Elkins. Today I woke up to read an article about how the city council voted to take away employees’ Christmas bonuses and I nearly lost my mind. In the article Councilman Woolwine is quoted as saying “This past year, when we gave them a raise, we thought the raise would replace the stipend.”

We’re going to go over some basic math for Councilman Woolwine, who I might add is running against two challengers from the First Ward in this election. EPD officers need an immediate 40 percent raise to make the department competitive and stop officers from leaving for better paid cities. The city lost three officers out of 12 last year to other agencies that paid better. That would be an unsustainable turnover rate for any private business besides McDonalds.

Patrolman Hewitt didn’t even make it out of the academy before she transferred to the Wood County Sheriff’s Department for a raise.

Anyhow, as to this “raise” the city employees received. As best as I understand, it’s set up to be an increase of 1 percent per year, “if the funds are available,” after an initial bump of around 3 percent for some of our officers. The problem is inflation runs about 3 percent per year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The consumer price index increased by 0.3 percent last month alone. To dumb things down for Councilman Woolwine and anyone else who voted for the raise, 3 percent is higher than 1 percent. Social security recipients are getting a 2.8 percent COLA increase in January. Why do our officers only deserve 1 percent? Mind you, this is BEFORE your city council voted to take away 1.4 percent of officers’ pay by eliminating the Christmas bonus.

Let me put this in perspective for you. EPD doesn’t have detectives. Regular patrol officers handle everything from parking tickets to murder.

Would you prefer to have an officer that has fifteen years of training and experience handling the case, or do you want a fresh out of the academy recruit who can barely write a traffic ticket investigating a felony? Which one do you think is going to be more likely to arrest someone and send them to prison?

Thanks to City Council’s inability to budget, Chief Galloway is the only EPD officer with more than 10 years on the job.

I know the next argument is going to be “but we don’t have the money.” First, there’s this 1 percent sales tax council passed despite near unanimous objection from dozens of business owners at that particular meeting.

This paper ran a story on Oct. 19 in which the first estimated payment was going to be around $184,000. That wasn’t even two months ago. Where did it go?

I suggest we start with a formal, intensive audit by an outside company of the city’s finances, to be immediately released to the public unredacted on completion. We can use the sales tax money to pay for the audit.

One last thing. If the city council doesn’t agree to an audit, you, and I mean you reading this paper, need to push the “nuclear option.” Elkins is a class III city with a population below 10,000. What that means is West Virginia Code §8-35-2 plainly says it only takes a petition by 25 percent of a city’s population to put dissolution of a municipality on the next ballot.

Either the town’s leaders can agree to oversight by a disinterested auditing firm, or you, the concerned citizen, can fire the entire city government and start over. Don’t get bystander syndrome.

Alex Wyshyvanuk

Tucson, Arizona

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