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Public employees lobby for insurance help
by Troy Graham

    CHARLESTON -Public employees from around the state gathered at the Capitol Thursday to ask state officials to find a solution to the $49 million deficit in the Public Employees Insurance Agency without harming the quality or affordability of the health care they receive. PEIA provides health insurance to more than 100,000 public employees, from teachers and police officers to city, county and state workers.
    A number of unions formed a coalition at the beginning of the legislative session to oppose a plan PEIA officials are considering to eliminate the deficit. The plan, devised by the PEIA Finance Board, would avoid raising premiums, but would raise deductibles and co-payments on hospital and doctor visits, as well as prescription drugs.
    Public employees regard the plan as a "take back," which takes money back from their pay to fill the PEIA deficit.
"PEIA was granted to teachers several years ago instead of a pay raise," said Bernie Hurst, a South Harrison High School teacher and president of the Harrison County Federation of Teachers. "Every year since then they've taken chunks away. Each year we end up paying more and more."
    A group of eight teachers from Harrison County came to Charleston to oppose the plan. "It's too important to not get involved," said Ron Fragale, a teacher and former Harrison County delegate. "It affects too many people, too many families."
    Gov. Cecil Underwood, Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin and other officials spoke briefly at the rally, offering conciliatory words and promising to include the public employees' unions in any discussion of the deficit.
"Your organization will have a place at the table," said Tomblin, D-Logan.
    Bob Brown, with the West Virginia Federation of Teachers, said the Senate president's words were encouraging. Brown wants to make sure that public employees have a voice in the decision-making process so that the deficit isn't erased "on the backs of the employees." Brown wants to plug the deficit this year and form a committee to explore long-term solutions. Public employees are "willing to bear part of the burden" for now, he said.
    PEIA Director Robert Ayers has said over-utilization and other abuses of the system are to blame for the deficit.
Brown, however, blames rising health care costs. To fix the system in the long term will require more containment of health care costs, as opposed to attacking utilization, he said. "What he's saying is people are pretending to be sick," Brown said. "I find that highly offensive." Ayers did not return a phone call seeking comment.
    The governor has proposed putting an extra $10.7 million into the PEIA budget to help erase the deficit. If more money can be found in the budget for PEIA, then co-payment and deductible increases will not be as high. But high utilization of the system continues to be a problem, officials say.  The deficit could eclipse $100 million next year if nothing is done.
    The plan put forth by PEIA officials is designed to make public employees more aware of the costs of health care and change the way they utilize the system.

Unionized Clarksburg police seek 12 percent raise
by Paul Leakan

    Police union officials Thursday told the Clarksburg City Council that it should not consider approving the city's budget until it is amended to include a 12 percent pay increase for police officers.Some city officials, however, still question whether the pay increase would be economically feasible or fair.
    The Clarksburg Police Department is both understaffed, under-equipped and underpaid, said Robert Matheny, head of the recently chartered Local 119 chapter of the International Union of Police Associations, AFL-CIO. "Your police department is the lowest paid," Matheny told council members, "but it's the hardest working."
    Criminal activity in the city has begun to increase, Matheny said, but the force has been cut by 25 percent in the last few years. And while the Clarksburg Police has been stretched thin to handle the increase of crime, they have been paid the lowest in the area, he said.
    Still, City Manager Percy Ashcraft continues to stress that pay raises given to city employees are usually doled out to every city department. And the 12 percent increase would be way above what the city normally provides, he said.
"The city has given salary raises 12 out of the last 14 years, and those average increases have been 2.75 percent. So to entertain a proposal of 12 percent would be difficult. "Our budget has not grown," Ashcraft added. "You would have to take funding from other sources  to account for that kind of salary."
    Matheny, however, believes a 12 percent increase is a small increase considering how little officers are paid now.
"A 12 percent increase (in pay) wouldn't even do it for us," Matheny said, "but the we realize that the low pay wasn't made overnight, and it won't be resolved overnight."
    Even so, Ashcraft said the city must to continue to address the police department's needs the same way it does with the rest of its departments. "It would be wrong to single out one department, because then you start putting departments against each other. That would be very wrong."
    Either way, several citizens who attended the council meeting Thursday were in support of the officers" efforts.
"The time these men and women have are taxed to the limit," said resident Carl Hardy, Jr. "They protect us and our lives. Let's protect them with our tax dollars."
    A Clarksburg patrolman with nine years of experience earns an annual base salary of $23,880. A Bridgeport patrolman with the same experience earns an annual base salary of $29,505. A state trooper with the same credentials earns a base salary of $31,704. And a Harrison County Sheriff's Department officer with 9 years experience earns $26,512 annually.

Harrison man jailed on 2nd sex charge
by James Fisher

    A Harrison County man already in jail for allegedly sexually assaulting a 5-year-old boy has been charged by Anmoore police with having sexual intercourse with a 14-year-old girl.
    Shawn Gordon Hier, 24, was arraigned Wednesday night on four counts of third-degree sexual assault for allegedly having sex with the girl in December. Hier's bond was set at $100,000. He has 10 days to request a preliminary hearing in magistrate court.
    The alleged victim's mother filed a complaint with Anmoore Police Officer Danny Dolin on Monday. The girl gave a statement to police that she had sex with Hier on Dec. 16, 17, 18 and 19, according to the criminal complaint filed in magistrate court. The alleged incidents happened at an Anmoore residence, Dolin said. Hier, who is originally from California, was staying with friends at that residence. The alleged victim told police that the owners of the residence, whom police have not identified, were unaware she was there during the alleged incidents.
    The owners of the home, however, told Dolin that Hier told them he had sex with the girl, according to the complaint.
Another Anmoore resident, identified by police as a friend of Hier's, told Dolin that Hier said he had intercourse and oral sex with the girl, according to the complaint.
    The friend allegedly told Dolin that both he and Hier were aware that the girl was 14 years old. Hier was arrested and charged Feb. 3 for allegedly assaulting a 5-year-old Anmoore boy once between Dec. 25 and Jan. 21, according to police.
Dolin did not release the exact nature of the alleged assault or the family's identity.
    Chief Magistrate Mark Gorby found there was probable cause to hold the first case over to the May term of the grand jury in a Feb. 11 preliminary hearing.
    If convicted of first-degree sexual assault, Hier faces a possible prison term of 15 to 35 years. He also faces a possible sentence of 1 to 5 years in the state penitentiary and a fine of not more than $10,000 for each of the third-degree sexual assault counts.

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