FBI could trim 300 temps by next year

Saturday, Feb. 6, 1999

by Julie R. Cryser
ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR

A more efficient system of processing fingerprints could leave as many as 300 temporary employees at the FBI complex in Clarksburg without jobs by October 2000. The top official at the facility said Friday, however, that the FBI is working with Sen. Robert C. Byrd and others to find new services the center can offer to keep those employees working and to give them permanent jobs. When they signed the documents, they signed up as term employees, said James V. DeSarno Jr., assistant director in charge of the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services complex in Clarksburg. No promises were made to those employees about permanent employment.
    DeSarno said that layoffs would not come for at least another year. Only temporary employees, about 1,100 of whom the FBI hired during the first six months of 1997 to help reduce a backlog of 3 million fingerprint cards, would lose their jobs, he said. The temporary employees work full-time and receive full-time benefits but have agreed to being terminated at any time.
    The possible reductions stem from the efficiency of the FBI's new system for conducting fingerprint identifications and classifications. The new system, the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), will no longer require a fingerprint specialist to classify the print, DeSarno said.
    The $640 million system will benefit law enforcement throughout the country because of speedy turn-around times on fingerprint identifications. What once took 10 days to do will now take two hours because a computer, rather than an employee, will search and classify the prints. Civil prints, for people running background checks on school teachers or other hires, will take 24 hours instead of a month.
    The FBI will begin operating the IAFIS system in Clarksburg in July. The center began preparing for the system in December by establishing new shifts that will keep the center operating 24 hours, 7 days a week.
The law enforcement business is a 24 hour business, DeSarno said.
Employees will begin working the new shifts in March, DeSarno said, based on a training schedule. The change in work schedules has worried some employees, he said. The anxiety level among employees has been raised.
     FBI is trying to find a place for all of the temporary employees at the center. Of the 1,100 employees hired in early 1997, about 500 have become permanent employees working on the new instant background check system for gun buyers that the federal government instituted in late 1998.
    Another 200 of the temporary employees will become permanent employees when the IAFIC system begins, DeSarno said. About 300 plus employees will remain temporary, however. DeSarno said he has held a number of group discussions with temporary employees to explain the situation. He would like to keep those employees at the FBI center, but he can make no promises, especially now that employees have wiped out the backlog of fingerprint cards.
"We are looking at additional responsibilities here", DeSarno said. "The new system for background checks on gun buyers could grow, and the FBI at some point wants to computerize all the records now stored in the Middletown Mall in Fairmont", he said. "We're just not waiting for the hammer to fall on these people, he said. What I think we have to do is find other opportunities here, other functions."
    "If there are no increases in responsibility at the FBI center, however, those 300 temporary employees will have to go. Temporary employees hired under a 2 year term have been given a 1 year term extension, but those terms could be terminated at any time", DeSarno said. "It is not responsible for me to make promises that we would keep term employees," he said. "I do know what they signed up for and they do too."



Officials fear regional airport could hurt Benedum

by Troy Graham
STAFF WRITER

Sunday, Feb. 7, 1999

CHARLESTON - A proposed regional airport for the southern part of the state, which has long been a controversial issue there, has gained the attention of Harrison County commissioners who fear funding for the airport could divert money from projects in their region. The Kanawha County Commission sent a letter to other county commissioners in the state in January. In the letter, commissioners said funding for other county projects could be reduced or eliminated if plans for a regional airport go forward.
    "If you think it's difficult to obtain or maintain state funding for infrastructure and other important local community and economic development programs, just wait until the state starts construction on a new regional airport," the letter said.
Kanawha County officials oppose the regional airport concept, preferring to expand Charleston's Yeager Airport.
They say that the proposed regional airport, which is estimated to cost $300 million, could only be funded in one of four ways ; higher taxes, a new airport tax, a long-term bond issue or a reallocation of existing funds. Because of public opposition to new or higher taxes, or garnering new debt, the most likely source of the money is the reallocation of existing funds, said the Kanawha commission. That would take money away from other counties, it said.
    After receiving the letter, Harrison commissioners asked the county's legislative delegation to oppose any such funding.
"We appreciate your commitment to the development projects in our area and we know you will protect the much needed funding mechanisms currently in place," the commissioners wrote. Delegates agreed that it is an important issue. "There's only so much money," said Delegate Frank Agnate, D-Harrison. "I feel we have to protect our investments in Harrison County."
    The alignment of officials from parts of the state outside the southern region brings new opponents to the regional airport concept. The airport was proposed in the early 1990s and has faced a steady stream of opposition and controversy ever since. Yeager airport officials have tried to block the regional airport, fearing it would mean the death of Yeager.
Sam Bonasso, the state transportation secretary, said that isn't necessarily true. "It may mean the transformation of Yeager," he said.
       State officials point out that the airport project is still in the evaluation process, and expanding Yeager Airport is being considered. On Friday, the state Supreme Court sided with the state in a lawsuit filed by the Yeager Airport Authority, allowing the evaluation process of potential sites and permitting the funding to go forward.
    While the battle over where the airport will be located plays out in southern West Virginia, county commissions in other parts of the state clearly see the airport as a threat. Delegate Barbara Warner, D-Harrison, said the commissioners have good reason to be worried. "There's a bunch of county commissions opposed to any funding going into a new airport," she said. "The figures I have right now say $100 million will have to come from the general revenue fund." Bonasso said the Kanawha County Commission's assertions about the airport funding are incorrect.
    "I can tell you that it's not an accurate portrayal how transportation investments are made in West Virginia," he said. "Transportation investments do not take away from infrastructure." In addition, funding avenues for the airport have not been identified, he said. The Federal Aviation Administration will most likely contribute funds and private investments will be sought before any state funds are discussed. The review process of the project must continue to settle those issues," Bonsai said. "That's why we're advocating the process," he said, following the Supreme Court's ruling. "In order for people to make a decision they need to have more information."
    The Lincoln County Commission also responded to the Kanawha commission's letter, saying the project will only move forward if it is economically viable. Lincoln County was one of two preferred sites for the airport selected by a consultant several years ago. Building the airport in rural Lincoln County would be expensive, Warner said.
"The infrastructure isn't there," she said. "They'll spend a fortune to level it off." The Lincoln officials said the state's allocation to the project would be over a 7- to 10-year period, at $7 million to $10 million a year.
    "This appropriation would not require higher taxes or the reallocation of existing funds," wrote commission President Charles McCann. "As West Virginia's employment opportunities grow the state's general revenues grow." Economic impact studies show as many as 1,600 construction jobs and 1,600 new direct jobs would be created by the project, he said.
"Can West Virginia afford to turn its back on this kind of opportunity without at least completing the process and determining if the project is viable?" McCann asked.


Troopers step up  pressure for raises

Sunday, Feb. 7, 1999
by Troy Graham
STAFF WRITER

CHARLESTON-- West Virginia has the lowest crime rate in the nation, while the state's largest law enforcement agency is the lowest paid in the region. West Virginia State Police officers and many state residents believe that is unfair. Legislators have been finding dozens of postcards on their desks this week, distributed by the Troopers Association and filled out by residents, urging lawmakers to give the troopers a pay raise.
Depending on a trooper's pay scale, a State Police officer makes anywhere from 17 to 29 percent less than officers in surrounding states, said Sgt. Joseph Tyree.
    "What we're talking about is an equitable pay raise to keep us current," he said. "Troopers are a valued commodity to a community and you can't measure that in dollars and cents." Having lower pay than surrounding states often means that State Police officers gain a few years of experience here then leave the state for other departments or federal jobs, taking with them their expertise, Tyree said.
    The training they receive here makes them eligible for other jobs. State troopers who graduate from the academy receive the equivalent of an associate's degree in criminal justice from Marshall University, Tyree said. "When you're talking about pay raises you're not just talking about what's in his pocket," he said. "What we're really talking about is the quality of the force."
    Troopers will most likely receive a $756 pay raise proposed by the governor. Last year he proposed raising all state employees' salaries by that amount for three years. But because troopers are on duty 24 hours a day, risking their lives, Tyree believes they deserve more. "If that phone rings, he has to go," he said. "It doesn't matter if his family is getting ready to go on vacation, or go eat dinner, or if his wife just cooked the biggest roast he's ever seen."
    It is uncertain if there is money in the state's budget for the raises, said Rod Blackstone, an Underwood spokesman.
"We'll continue to look at our options," he said. "But we're not in a position to do that yet." Tyree said the State Police is largely responsible for keeping crime down, from taking the biggest cases to training other officers. Other departments send their officers to the State Police academy for training.
    And just because the state has a low crime rate, it doesn't mean the State Police have less to do, he said.
"You have to work to maintain it," Tyree said. "It's like if you go to the gym and work out and your arms get big as trees. What happens if you stop going to the gym? You lose it."



Construction set for Flemington clinic
by Torie Knight
STAFF WRITER
    Flemington residents have waited for more than a year to get medical services into their community. "Out here in Flemington there is no clinic close to us," said Wayne McCauley, a Flemington resident who was the first to suggest Grafton City Hospital build a clinic. "We need a clinic because some of the elderly can't get out."
    The hospital was interested in the clinic, Chief Operating Officer Stuart Cayer said. The delay, however, has been waiting for state approval from the Health Care Cost Review Authority to open the clinic. That approval has been granted and construction on the facility will start next week. The Flemington Clinic will operate as a branch of Grafton City Hospital. It will be staffed by a full-time physicians assistant and two rotating family practitioners  Dr. Karen Frank and Dr. Kim Martin.
Cayer said studies conducted last year showed a need in the area for medical care, a need great enough for the hospital to build the branch.
    "There is no primary care coverage in that area," Cayer said. "They have to go elsewhere for primary health care needs or get none at all." For most Flemington residents health care involves a drive to medical facilities in either Grafton, Clarksburg or Philippi. McCauley said residents need something in their hometown.
    The clinic will operate in the back of the Flemington EMS. Grafton City Hospital officials and Flemington EMS members signed a lease agreement last week. Physician's Assistant Steve Grooves will run the facility and hire office personnel.
The office is expected to open within two to three months. Local contractor Tony Smith is working to  turn the empty cafeteria type room into a clinic.
    The clinic will have four exam rooms, a physician's office, a receptionist's office and a waiting area. Plans also include enlarging the EMS parking lot to allow better parking for clinic patients. "The community is very excited," Cayer said. "This will be a big plus for them."


Banks defend rising fees

Sunday, Feb. 7, 1999
by Paul Leakan
STAFF WRITER
Many consumers have come to realize that banking services often come with more than a nice greeting and a toothy smile.
Common services that banks offered for free a dozen years ago, such as assistance in balancing a customer's checkbook, can cost as much as $20 an hour. There are fees for using an automatic teller machine, fees for using the wrong automatic teller machine, fees for opening a checking account, fees for not keeping enough money in an account, fees for taking too much money from an account, fees for checks ... and the list goes on.
    Several area bank representatives said they have plenty of costs of their own to handle.
But all of the fees, generating billions of dollars for banking institutions each year, have some analysts wondering: Does the service really justify the cost? Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group in Washington, D.C., has had trouble answering that question lately.
    The Public Interest Research Group has been performing studies on banking costs the past few years. And the results, Mierzwinski said, show that many banks have raised and created new fees while giving the same or less service.
The 300 biggest banks in the country are the ones that charge the biggest fees, he said. "They're charging more because they can. They're not passing along the economy to scale. They're using their market power."
    A list of charges at area banks does show that services such as researching an account is often lower at smaller banks.
So, are the fees justifiable?Jim Hayhurst, executive vice-president of United National Bank shares, believes they are.
"I think the fees are fairly customary and fairly consistent no matter who you check with," Hayhurst said. "I think the charges are minimal compared to the convenience and service." The marketplace simply decides how much banks charge, he said.
    "Generally, when we look at fees, we survey the market, see what's out there and then we set the fees. Hopefully you take into account what your costs are. If it's an item that requires manpower, you try to price it appropriately."
Even so, fees for using an ATM are hardly justifiable, Mierzwinksi said.
    While most area banks don't charge an annual fee for ATM services, using a machine at a bank other than your own often means a $1.50 surcharge plus an additional charge from your bank. But what many customers don't realize is that banks do have their own fees to pay in order to provide ATM service, said Becky Nay, branch manager of City National Bank.
Banks often have to pay processing fees to other banks when their customers use another bank's machine.
And in order to stock their ATM machines, banks must have the money delivered to them from the federal reserve via an armored car service, Nay said.
    "When you get an ATM in a really popular place, you can spend a lot of money just to keep it stocked up," Nay said. "That's one thing I don't think customers realize." Besides the factors that go into creating the fees, bank representatives said that banks are much like any other for-profit business.
    The only problem, however, is that banks fall under a different category than most retail businesses, Mierzwinski said.
"I don't have a problem with their profits. But banks are not 7-Elevens. Banks are not department stores. Banks are subsidized and their insurance is guaranteed. In return for that, people put their money in banks because they trust them."
"I think banks are not public utilities, but they are publicly chartered," Mierzwinski added. "As publicly chartered institutions, they ought to do a better job of pricing their services fairly so that all Americans can afford them. And they ought to stop nickel-and-diming people."
    Hayhurst doesn't believe that's the case. He says that in many cases, such as helping customers on their accounts, banks don't charge anything. Banks usually charge research fees only when tellers or bank clerks have to spend their time following their customers' trail of missing paperwork," he said. "Nobody wants to pay fees, but fees are part of life. I think those fees are adequately communicated,  adequately disclosed. And you can avoid the fees by following the rules."
    Regardless of whether the fees are justifiable or not, customers always carry their own burden to monitor how much they are paying, said Bob Lamont, general counsel for the state division of banking. "Consumers need to read the print and the disclosures. Shop around. See what products are out there and where you can get the best deals based upon the kind of services you would want from a bank."



 
 
 

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