By Matthew Young, RealWV
BECKLEY, W.Va. – “Unfortunately now – in 2023 – Beckley is the worst city to live in in the State of West Virginia.”
That’s what Stephanie French of the Raleigh County Provision Coalition said during the Tuesday meeting of the Beckley Common Council. French’s statement came shortly after the council chose to table discussion of a salary increase for the city’s police officers.
“Last year, we had 1,045 violent crimes in the City of Beckley,” French told council members. “One in 18 will be the victim of a violent crime in this city. We have some of the largest homeless-encampments in the State of West Virginia. We have other cities busing homeless in at just miraculous rates.”
“This city is overrun with drugs,” French continued. “We all know the trooper who was killed in Mingo County (Sgt. Cory Maynard), doing his job. The chances of these officers – one in five will be devastatingly injured in a drug-related crime in this city.”
“We not only need to pay these men more, but we need to hire more,” French added.
On the council’s agenda Tuesday, was consideration of an across-the-board $2,500 salary increase for sworn Beckley police officers. To begin discussion, Mayor Rob Rappold said, “I would like to think, as mayor, we’ve done all we can possibly do to make this the best-equipped police department – if not in the state, then certainly right up there as one of the best.”
“I would also say that, during the past two years, those officers who were on board and present at the time, received a $6,500 award from our ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds,” Rappold added. “And then, if you were here during that two-year period, all city employees received another $850 which we called a ‘year-end pay supplement.”
Rappold explained that, despite “considerable campaigning to raise the amount,” considering any salary increase other than the advertised $2,500 would represent a “material change” to the agenda, thereby making consideration invalid.
Council Member Robert Dunlap – while crediting Beckley’s Chief Financial Officer, Billie Trump, for going “out of his way to give us a lot of information” – briefly discussed a recently-held “workshop” regarding the salary increase.
“An increase is absolutely what, in our workshop, we all agreed was necessary,” Dunlap said. “By increasing their (sworn police officers) salaries, I believe we can attract and retain the best officers, and become more competitive with other law enforcement agencies nearby.”
“That being said, I wasn’t in support of the agenda item listing a $2,500 increase,” Dunlap added. “I felt that the salary increase, after doing my independent research, should be more upwards of about $8,000.”
Council Member Sherrie Hunter then presented a motion that an $8,000 across-the-board salary increase for police officers be considered at a future common council meeting, to which Trump, who originally argued that such an amount was ultimately unsustainable, said, “That looks like at least a half-million-dollars per year added onto the police department budget.”
“Right now the police department budget is about $7 million,” Trump noted. “You’re going to raise the budget by nearly 10%. When you do that, where are you going to get the money?”
“I really wish the members of council would have sat down and we could have talked,” Trump continued. “We could have looked at the budget a little more carefully, and understood the repercussions of this motion – there are going to be some significant repercussions.”
“If you don’t want to rely on my expertise, then I don’t have any business being here,” Trump added.
While Hunter’s previous motion for future consideration of an $8,000 pay raise was not seconded, her motion to table further discussion until a future council meeting was both seconded and approved. The potential for another workshop was briefly discussed, before Rappold stated that he would “shoot for” adding the matter to the next meeting’s agenda.
“I’m a prior federal law enforcement officer,” Council Member Janine Bullock said, before the floor was opened for public comments. “ I want these officers to be taken care of.”
The next meeting of the Beckley Common Council is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 25.