CHARLESTON – The judges in Kanawha Circuit Court have asked the Circuit Clerk and County Commission for an $8,000 raise for entry-level deputy circuit clerks.

In a letter to Circuit Clerk Cathy Gatson and County Commission President Kent Carper, all seven judges say a high turnover rate among the deputy clerks has them concerned. They say it directly affects Circuit Court operations.

"From our experience, the Clerk's office has been unable to employ and retain qualified personnel for the deputy clerk positions due to the current starting salary of $18,000," the judges write. "The starting salary for clerks in the Magistrate Court, for virtually the same work, is $26,244. This pay disparity is very troubling to the Court."

They say many deputy clerks are leaving the office for higher paying jobs elsewhere, and they ask that the entry-level salary be raised to that $26,244 figure.

In a follow-up memo, Carper noted that this salary change would cost the county about $150,000.

"When you try to pick one group, you can count on others saying, 'Me, too,'" Carper said Thursday. "How about the clerks in vital statistics and the ones who run elections? Are they any less important? Of course not. And how about the custodians? They work hard and expose themselves to danger on the job. Are they less important? Of course not."

For example, emergency telecommunicators at Metro 911 start at $21,562 annually. If the court clerks get that raise, Carper says the 911 workers should, too.

"It's very easy to propose something when you're not the one having to raise taxes to pay for it," Carper said.

Gatson, in a letter to the Commission, said a well-trained staff is a necessity.

"While a background or education in paralegal or the legal field is helpful, the unique nature of the work in the Circuit Clerk's Office means most employees arrive with little or no direct experience," she writes. "On the job training provides our staff specialized knowledge in legal procedures and the court system. This knowledge and experience makes them very valuable.

"At the same time, it makes them very attractive to other court agencies like the Supreme Court, Family Court, Prosecuting Attorney's Office, law offices and other governmental and private agencies."

Gatson says in the past, the office could rely on other factors such as health care benefits and paid parking to insulate the office from competing agencies. But those factors have been weakened by an improved economy and greater job availability, she says.

"Raising starting salaries from $18,000 to $26,244 is a beginning," Gatson writes. "But consideration must be given to the well-trained emplaced staff whose experience and knowledge is relied upon not only by judges and lawyers but thousands of litigants who enter the court system each year."

Gatson says she has spoken to County Manager Brent Pauley, and she is drafting a proposal to present to the Commission.

"Proficient employees must be retained against this increasing competition from the private sector and other governmental agencies," she said. "To that end, a pay increase of some dimension, exceeding the cost of living allowance on an annual basis is essential."

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