Record-high regional jail bill hampers county’s 2019-2020 budgeting process

BUCKHANNON – Funds allocated to pay Upshur County’s regional jail bill in the upcoming fiscal year will comprise about 10 percent of the county’s entire general fund budget.

County administrator Carrie Wallace said Thursday the Upshur County Commission is budgeting $900,000 to pay the jail bill in the 2019-2020 fiscal year; that amount equals approximately 10 percent of the county’s $8,923,042 general fund budget.

Commissioners based the estimate on the county’s current jail bill, which is on track to total about $906,000 for the current 2018-2019 fiscal year budget, Wallace said.

The county’s budget hearings got underway March 13 and wrapped up earlier this week.

Although commissioners won’t vote on the proposed $8.9 million general fund budget until their March 28 meeting, Wallace shared the county’s proposed numbers with media outlets Thursday.

A rising regional jail bill

Commission president Sam Nolte said the regional jail bill was the main factor that affected how the county allocated its revenue and expenditures for the coming fiscal year.

“It’s been going up every year,” Nolte said Thursday. “We did have the one year where it dropped $100,000, and we got excited, but then it bounced back to almost $200,000 over what we were estimating.

“This year, it looks like it’s trending to be about $900,000, so that’s a huge factor because if it was at more of a reasonable level – maybe $450,000 to $550,000 – that’s a lot of extra revenue that we could be working with, and then of course, you have the increase in health insurance, which everybody has been dealing with that.

“I think between those two, and a few other things, it kind of puts the squeeze on us,” he added.

The 2019-2020 budget is about $357,000 higher than what the county budgeted for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, which totaled about $8.5 million.

During this fiscal year, Wallace said the commission has had to approve about $150,000 in budget revisions to cover the cost of the regional jail bill. Each West Virginia county is charged a per diem of $48.25 per inmate per day.

Wallace said county officials know there’s a possibility the jail bill could be even more than what they’ve budgeted for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

“In the FY 2020 budget, they allocated $900,000 in funding, acknowledging the fact that they will likely have to do a budget revision in that year because they may need additional funding,” she said. “The commissioners have had to do a budget revision in the amount of $150,000 to fund the overage of the regional jail bill (this fiscal year).”

Requests for tighter courtroom security

Another issue that surfaced during budget hearings was to what extent the county was going to fund the Court Security Advisory Board’s $117,000 proposal to implement full court security.

Doing so would have entailed stationing court security personnel at the front doors of both the courthouse annex and the main courthouse building – as well as installing an X-ray machine and roller tables at the annex’s entrance.

Although commissioners opted not to fully fund proposal of the board, which is chaired by Magistrate Mike Coffman, they did allocate $50,568 for court security, which will pay for the addition of two part-time court security officers.

That brings the number of court security personnel – which includes bailiffs – up to seven, Wallace said.

“The proposal was to have two stationed at annex front door where X-ray machine and roller tables would have been located and then one at the front door of the courthouse, as well as a rover that would go in between both stations to help with inmates and so on,” she explained.

“Unfortunately, they were not able to fund that request fully,” Wallace added. “They did allocate funds for an additional two part-time court security personnel, and their plan is to station those two individuals in front of the Circuit Courtroom. They will operate the walk-through metal detector when court is in session.”

Another change that’s coming in the realm of court security?

In the past, the walk-through metal detector outside the Circuit Courtroom has only been utilized in high profile cases; however, beginning with the new fiscal year, the metal detector will be used during all hearings, and one of the two new part-time court security personnel will monitor people as they proceed through the metal detector.

“I would like to note that there has not been a meeting with the Court Security Advisory Board since the budget hearings,” Wallace said. “Of course, the commission has talked with Magistrate Coffman, who chairs that board, and he has, in turn, spoken with the judges, but this is the commission’s proposal.”

The county plans to apply for money through the West Virginia Court Security Grant Fund program to purchase items intended to make Upshur County courtrooms safer, including mobile radios, tasers, shatterproof glazing for the front doors and a security camera for the elevator.

Nolte noted the commission had been hoping to fully fund the Court Security Advisory Board’s proposal in its 2019-2020 budget.

“However, we just didn’t feel comfortable going forward with that, mainly because you’ve got to think about not just this year, but the coming years,” he said. “We are fortunate to just to be able to fund what we did.”

“That’s something, year after year, that you’re going to have to keep up if you’re going to fund it … so this is just adding one more step to get things where we want them to be,” Nolte added. “We’re only about halfway there.”

Compensation and other capital expenditures

Commissioners built an additional 2 percent into elected officials’ budgets for personnel costs – i.e. raises.

County elected officials will have the discretion as to how they’ll divvy that additional 2 percent up, but because their salaries are set by state code, elected officials will not receive raises.

However, the commission does have authority to give raises to non-elected departmental supervisors, and in the 2019-2020 FY budget, commissioners are choosing to give supervisors 2 percent across-the-board raises.

Wallace said the only major capital expenditure expected in the coming year is $34,000 to purchase a new sedan for the Upshur County Sheriff’s Department.

During budget hearings, Sheriff Dave Coffman had asked the county for enough money buy two new sedans, saying he wants to phase out SUVs; however, the commission ultimately elected to allocate funding for one of the two sedans.

“That’s really the only capital expenditure in this year’s budget,” Wallace said, “and of course, that will go out to bid.”

The impact of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline

The impact of the ACP on the county’s tax base for the 2019-2020 budget is positive, Wallace said, and that’s because taxes for the upcoming fiscal year are based on assessments of personal or real property from July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019.

“There is a lot of additional personal property in Upshur County that wasn’t here the year prior, so additional revenue specifically related to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would be roughly $150,000, and most of that is personal property, due to all the equipment that was here,” she said. “Our concern is with FY 2021 year. Depending on the outcome of the court case, which will likely end up in Supreme Court from what we’re hearing, my concern is the length of time it’s going to take to process all these court hearings.”

More recreational opportunities could be realized if the jail bill decreases in the future

Nolte said the ballooning regional jail bill isn’t only an Upshur County problem.

“Almost every county in West Virginia is facing the same thing,” he remarked. “I was just talking to the sheriff about this – I’m wondering if it’s peaking. Are we hitting that point? No one really knows … we had an issue with prescription pills … and that was the beginning of watching the regional jail bill be driven up. Now, some of the biggest problems with have are with crystal meth and heroin.”

Nolte said so many charges – such as larceny, burglary, domestic assault and more – are drug-related, even if the individual under arrest wasn’t specifically charged with the possession, delivery or manufacture of an illegal controlled substance.

If the commission didn’t have to spend so much cash on the regional jail bill, Nolte said he’d like to see the county invest in parks and recreational facilities/opportunities.

“We’d like to build on that, and improve what we have, and kind of get creative,” he said. “We want to seek out different things that we could be doing that would have a positive impact for our residents.”

For instance, during budget hearings, commissioners met with Upshur County Youth Soccer Association president Kevin Nicholson and UCYSA registrar Heather Wright, who had hoped the county would set aside some money to develop the Wellness Complex on the Brushy Fork Road for all youth sports.

However, county officials said prior to making any monetary decisions, the best course of action would be to discuss permitting issues with the City of Buckhannon. The Wellness Complex is county-owned property located within city limits.

Once finalized and approved, the county’s general fund budget will be submitted to the West Virginia State Auditor’s Office March 28.

In addition, Upshur County’s coal severance fund budget – which is distinct from its general fund budget – will total $50,000 for the 2020 fiscal year. Wallace said of that money, the county budgeted $10,000 for postage, $20,000 for the Upshur County Development Authority and another $20,000 for the Buckhannon-Upshur Airport Authority.

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