(06/23/2001)
Reprint from the Charleston Gazette

Pennsboro, WV (AP) -- Reporting emergencies might become difficult for Ritchie County residents later this summer once the North Central Regional Jail in Doddridge County opens, local officials say.

The Ritchie County Jail currently handles emergency calls.

But the regional jail system will close the jail, and the county will no longer be responsible for keeping a dispatching system there. The regional jail is expected to open in early August and dispatchers have secured other jobs -- some at the new jail.

Meanwhile, a new 911 system for Ritchie County might not be ready until August 2002.

"No one in Pennsboro can get sick or have a fire this year,'' Pennsboro City Recorder Mary Jane Allen said at a city council meeting earlier this month.

The city relies upon the jail dispatching system for fire, ambulance and police protection.

County Commissioner Sam Rogers said police services in Harrisville also rely upon the jail to dispatch calls.

And while services in each community are handled separately by day, Rogers said many calls are forwarded to the jail at night when emergency squads are dispatched.

"All of the emergency services cover for each other using call forward systems, but eventually call forward to the jail and it will be too cost effective to keep a staff there for 24 hour, seven day a week coverage,'' Rogers said.

Full-time coverage would cost the county between $55,000 and $60,000 in wages and benefits, Rogers said.

"That is not feasible,'' Rogers said.

Rogers suggested contracting services out.

"The county needs financial help from the cities before we can solve this problem,'' said Rogers. "The county will put some money into the solution, but we need help.''

Pennsboro Mayor Wes Merritt said he hopes the city can get some grant money.

Rogers said the county will try to find a solution before the regional jail opens.

"We all have to work together to get this resolved,'' Rogers said.

Meanwhile, Rogers said he is torn over the new system.

"I'm not totally against the regional jail system,'' said Rogers. They have burned us on some things and have been a blessing to us in others. The regional jail gets us out of medical bills incurred by prisoners which can get expensive, but we were running a positive system because we were housing prisoners for other counties.''

The regional jail will serve Marion, Harrison, Monongalia, Doddridge, Ritchie, Wirt, Wood, Pleasants and Tyler counties.


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