Berkeley County owes regional Jail and Correctional agency more than $1 million

August 12, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Berkeley County owes the West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Authority more than $1 million for housing inmates at the state's regional jails, with the oldest invoice dating to October 2007, according to county clerk John W. Small Jr.'s office.

At the end of July, only Mercer County had a higher tab among the counties, cities and agencies who owed more than $8.5 million to the agency in the last two years, according to figures released by the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety.

Jefferson County had a $6,000 credit at the end of the fiscal year ending June 30, and Morgan County had paid in full by that time, Deputy Secretary Joseph C. Thornton said in a phone interview Monday.

Thornton said the agency relies on the revenue to operate the state's regional jail system and doesn't receive a state budget allocation from the state.


"We want to be good neighbors," Thornton said of the letters being sent this week to those government agencies that have outstanding jail bills.

The Berkeley County Commission has approved paying some of the invoices since October 2007, but has skipped over larger bills and paid smaller ones, according to records in Small's office.

As of Monday, the county said it owed $1,161,318 from six invoices. The county also had unpaid invoices from the West Virginia County Commissioner's Association, Berkeley County Board of Education and Gannett Fleming Inc., among others. Gannett Fleming was hired to prepare the proposed zoning and subdivision ordinances, among other projects.

Thornton acknowledged the agency could resort to filing legal action to collect, but would rather try to reach out to debtors first.

Berkeley County Commission President Steven C. Teufel said the county would take the necessary steps to ensure the county's fiscal responsibilities are met with the regional jail bill, but he acknowledged the county wasn't prepared to simply write a check for the outstanding sum.

At the end of the 2007-08 fiscal year, Berkeley County was billed $3.4 million and had paid about $2.1 million by the end of July, leaving a debt of $1.25 million, Thornton said. Mercer County owed closer to $1.3 million at that time, including carryover debt from the 2006-07 fiscal year, Thornton said.

Jefferson County's bill for housing inmates in the last fiscal year was about $1.4 million, and Morgan County paid $425,000, Thornton said.

In an effort to reduce inmate costs, Berkeley County joined an effort spearheaded by officials in Jefferson County to establish a community corrections program earlier this year.

State grants of $193,812 and $63,500 were announced last month for the program, which is eventually hoped to include Morgan County, officials have said.

Officials are in the process of establishing a governing board for the program, which is expected to include a day reporting center concept for qualified law offenders.

In a legislative summit with Eastern Panhandle lawmakers on Monday, county commissioners from the tri-county region asked for legislation to return revenue generated by an increase in the "sin" tax on alcohol to the counties as well as 2 percent of the real estate transfer tax to help with the jail bills.

"There needs to be some alternatives to get this paid," Teufel said.

Teufel said legislation that would allow counties to close bars at the same time as neighboring Maryland or Virginia also could help with the county's jail expenses.

"Every little bit helps," Teufel said.

About 20 percent of the county's tax revenue goes toward the jail bill, Teufel said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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