(02/14/2001)
By Bob Weaver

The word authority becomes meaningful to county governments when the Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority just voted three-to-one to raise its daily rate from $39.50 to $43.25. It may not sound like a lot of money to counties having a good tax base, but several of West Virginia's poorer counties are facing imminent crisis with paying their jail bill.

Beth Taylor, President of the Harrison County Commission, says many of the counties can barely pay the current fee. Calhoun County continues to be in arrears with the jail authority, after making serious monthly efforts to pay on the bill.

Wirt County is facing financial collapse as they loose their local jail which has generated income, and must now pay a regional jail bill. Their Commission is meeting with Gov. Bob Wise to discuss the problem this month. Calhoun County has asked for a special $80,000 grant to pay-off the bill, at least once.

The new rates will increase on July 1, according to Steve Canterbury, Executive Director of the authority. He said the raise is necessary to cover a 25% increase in prisoners medical costs, higher prices for gasoline and natural gas and higher workers compensation payments.

Canterbury acknowledged one of the biggest reasons for the rate increase was to increase pay for correctional officers to keep them from leaving. Officials cannot keep the slots filled. They have serious concerns over competitive wages with the new U. S. prisons being built in the state. He is asking for a two thousand dollar across the board raise for officers.

Authority members did say the amount of the increase could be reduced if the Legislature provides special assistance.

Meanwhile, the Legislature agreed it needs a new authority "to oversee and manage county courthouses" in the states 55 counties. A new bill would establish the West Virginia Court Facilities Improvement Authority. This authority, according to the bill, would help counties keep their facilities operational because of mandated burdens placed on them by state government.

The counties have been wired for two-way TV to help the magistrate courts and local police reduce their travel to the regional jail, the family law master system has been placed in county courthouses and pricey computer lines have been required for Assessors and other elected officials. Much of the financial burden of these mandates rest with the counties.

The courthouse bill, modeled after the School Building Authority, is expected to be introduced during the Legislatures 60 day session.


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