Tax increase reflects inflated jail expenses

March 26, 1998|By AMY WALLAUER

Tax increase reflects inflated jail expenses

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County residents will see a small tax increase under the approved budget for the 1998-99 fiscal year, but the county's tax rate will remain one of the lowest in the state.

The 3 percent levy increase will cost a homeowner with a $90,000 home about $2 more, but will bring in an additional $300,000 to the county.

Climbing jail costs are the main reason for the increase, said Commission President James Smith. Law enforcement makes up nearly one-third of the budget.


"A big part of the whole budget is keeping law and order - Eastern Regional Jail, the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department, the Prosecuting Attorney's office, that's over $3 million," said Commissioner D. Wayne Dunham.

The Eastern Regional Jail's increase was the most significant in the county's $10 million budget. The $1.58 million budgeted for the jail is double the amount budgeted for the 1997-98 fiscal year.

The daily cost of housing a prisoner is $38. Steve Canterbury, executive director of the West Virginia Regional Jail and Corrections Facilities, said he will propose raising the daily rate to $40.50 at the authority board's April meeting.

"I really don't like the idea of raising the per diem," Canterbury said. "But the medical costs have risen so dramatically, they've just leapt 25 percent in the last three or four years and it's really driving costs up."

Canterbury said the growing prison population has hiked transportation costs.

Eastern Regional Jail originally was built for 120 inmates but is often near double the capacity because of an increasing number of felony cases.

The average number of inmates is 245, with a peak this year of 279, said a jail spokesman. In some two-bunk cells, a third inmate sleeps on a mattress on the floor.

The tax increase, the bulk of which will be paid by business and industry, will help offset the per diem rate.

The new tax rates are 11.6 cents per $100 for Class I residential properties, 23.2 cents per $100 for Class II rental properties and 46.4 cents per $100 for Class III and Class IV business and commercial properties - lower than most other counties in West Virginia.

In the 1997-98 fiscal year, Berkeley County had the sixth-lowest tax rate in the state.

Other items in the budget include:

* $1.13 million for courthouse renovations and improvements and vehicle leases or purchases for the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department.

* $622,312 for the communications center, which will fund a state-mandated teletype system, the continuation of the address conversion plan, new street signs and 911 telephone upgrades.

* $60,000 for computerizing offices of the prosecuting attorney, county clerk, voter registration, circuit clerk and sheriff's department.

The commission has to submit the county budget to the state tax department by Monday. The state will notify the county of any changes or modifications by April 21.

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