Regional jail bills threaten to derail budget

PARKERSBURG – An ever-increasing regional jail bill is threatening to derail Wood County’s budget.

The county commissioners could be looking at from $300,000-$500,000 or more over the projected annual budget for the regional jail expenses if costs continue at the current pace.

“It does bring fear for the coming year’s budget. We didn’t fund some worthwhile community organizations last year because of financial concerns. It may take away our carryover; it might cut into our revenues, and that’s a concern. I don’t want to see us not being able to support things that build the quality of life in the community,” said commission President Wayne Dunn.

“We may have to go into the reserves to make the budget balance – that is not looking good,” Dunn said.

Law enforcement and judicial officials have said arrests are up, especially for drug offenses.

During a recent meeting in which the commissioners asked Holding Center administrator Steve Stephens about rising costs, he noted increased drug offense related arrests as one possible reason for the rising costs.

Using previous regional jail bills to project the new budget, the commissioners estimated the regional jail bill budget at $2 million.

Wood County Clerk Mark Rhodes said monthly costs at the time the budget was prepared were in the $166,000 range.

“That was the kind of an average they were working with at the time,” Rhodes said.

The commissioners prepare the county budget in the spring; it must be submitted to the state by the end of March. The county’s fiscal year begins July 1 and ends June 30.

The latest regional jail bills show a much different picture.

For the month of November, the bill was $218,138; for October it was $217,414.

According to county records, the numbers starting to move up around June and July when bills totaled $185,000 and $200,000.

Rhodes said the county usually receives the prior month’s bill around the middle of the following month.

“It goes to the sheriff’s department first where they check their records to make sure everything is correct, that the inmates we were charged for were actually from Wood County and the amount of days billed is correct,” Rhodes said.

Dunn noted he’s hopeful, if passed, proposed legislation that would make pseudoephedrine, a main ingredient in the production of methamphetamines, available only by prescription, might make a dent in the rising meth problem.

Pseudoephedrine is a common medication used to provide temporary relief for those suffering from allergies/sinus/colds. It is available over the counter at West Virginia pharmacies if photo identification is provided.

But Dunn noted he’s not sure how much of an effect the legislation would have in border areas like Wood County.

Advocates for the legislation say in other states the requirement has cut down the number of meth labs.

Rhodes said the subject of regional jail bills was a recent query to county clerks around the state. Twenty counties responded.

“The regional jail costs were about 8 percent of Wood County’s total budget last fiscal year (2012-2013),” Rhodes said.

In Cabell and Mineral counties, the regional jail costs were about 16 percent for their total budget. In Webster County, the regional jail bill accounted for 17 percent of that county’s total budget from last fiscal year.

Pleasants and Pocahontas counties had the lowest numbers of those counties responding to the inquiry.

In Pleasants County the total jail bill last year was $105,700, 2 percent of that county’s total budget. Pocahontas County showed bills of $198,957, also 2 percent of its total budget last year.

Wood County’s total regional jail bill for 2012-2013 was $1,945,607 of its $22.9 million total budget last year.

Roane and Marion counties showed the bills were 13 percent of their respective total budgets for last year.

Kanawha County’s regional jail bill last year totaled $4,239,607 out of its total $57 million budget, amounting to 7 percent.

Neighboring Ritchie County had a $146,741 regional jail bill last year. Its total budget was around $3.3 million, making a 4 percent hit from the jail bill.