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Proposed jail cost hike irks Smith

December 12, 1997

By DON AINES

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A decision by the West Virginia Regional Jail Authority to ask the state Legislature for an increase in the cost to local governments for housing prisoners isn't sitting well with one of its members, Berkeley County Commission President James Smith.

"I would have only voted for that on the condition of jail bills going to the arresting agency," Smith said Thursday. Smith said he was unable to attend a Monday meeting at which the vote was taken.

The authority will ask the Legislature to increase the fee from $38 to $43 a day next year. Smith said that when he goes to the Jan. 12 meeting he wants to see if the authority also plans to change the formula by which local governments are billed for inmate housing in regional jails.

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In fiscal 1996-97, jail bills for Berkeley County prisoners came to almost $1.2 million, but the reimbursement from the City of Martinsburg was just $53,906, according to county figures. Smith said about 40 percent of the prisoners are arrested by city police.

"If they are arrested on a state warrant, the county pays. If it's a city warrant, the city pays," Commissioner Robert L. Burkhart said. Since most offenses are covered by state laws, most offenders are cited for state violations, he explained.

"We're basically providing a jail for them," Smith said of the city.

After the first five months of the 1997-98 fiscal year, the cost to Berkeley County of keeping inmates behind bars is running about $43,000 higher than last year.

Through November, the county spent $495,482 to house inmates, compared to $452,428 for the same period last year, according to County Administrator Deborah Sheetenhelm.

The county budgeted $650,000 for prison housing last year, but ended up spending almost twice that figure. The corrections budget this year is $675,000.

"We also had to incorporate the June and the May payments into this fiscal year" because the county had reached the limit of how much money it could move into the corrections budget, Sheetenhelm said.

The bills for those two months came to $248,268, making the bills for 1997-98 $743,750 to date.

Sheetenhelm said the county last week did a budget revision to assure there will be money to cover the bills for corrections. The county had to make several budget revisions last year after inmate costs rose sharply in the spring.

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