Charleston West Virginia Economic Development

Discussions on Economic and Community Development in West Virginia and the Charleston MSA as well as issues of the Charleston Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Jail fees to get legislative attention

by Jake Stump Daily Mail Capitol Reporter

Phil Pfister, formerly the World’s Strongest Man, speaks with Del. Nancy Peoples Guthrie before this morning’s Issues & Eggs breakfast at the Charleston Marriott.

As the annual Issues and Eggs Breakfast unofficially kicked off the start of the legislative session, several Kanawha County lawmakers said today one of their main goals is reducing the burden of escalating regional jail fees.
The Charleston Chamber of Commerce sponsored the morning session at the Charleston Marriott for lawmakers and local officials.

Local legislators expressed concern over Kanawha County's ability to keep up with jail costs.
Last month, the Kanawha County Commission put regional jail costs at the top of its legislative agenda.

At one time the county was $2 million behind in jail payments but has recently managed to get caught up. Lately, the monthly bills have averaged about $350,000 to pay for people housed in the regional jails.

Del. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, said an interim committee researching the issue found that more than 2,000 people in the past year were jailed because of late parking tickets or fees.

Palumbo said he thinks jailing people for such minor offenses might cause more harm than good from a fiscal standpoint.

"If that's the case, we need to look at some of these people we're putting in the regional jails," Palumbo said.

The regional jail authority currently charges counties $48.50 a day per inmate.

Palumbo also suggested that increasing the state's alcohol tax could help ease the jail costs.

Del. Dave Higgins, D-Kanawha, called regional jail costs the biggest legislative issue facing the county.

"It's not a problem, necessarily, with the costs of the jail," Higgins said. "The issue is that we're putting people in jail for minor offenses. It seems to be more about the money (raising revenue), and that doesn't sit well with me."

While local lawmakers acknowledge the problem, Higgins said he isn't sure if legislators elsewhere will want to give much attention to the topic.

"It's bound to be worse in a county with a metropolitan area," he said.

Counties received word of slight relief last month when the Regional Jail Authority announced it would reduce the charge by 2 percent in the fiscal year that begins July 1. That is expected to save Kanawha County about $100,000 next year.

In 2005, the Legislature enacted a jail reimbursement fund.

The money comes from higher fines for people convicted of crimes and higher filing fees for civil actions. The proceeds are collected by the state treasurer's office and distributed to the counties to help with costs.

The reimbursement saves the county about $400,000 a year.

But the Kanawha County Commission wants the Legislature to reduce its jail costs even more.
Commission President Kent Carper, who attended the legislative breakfast with fellow commissioner Hoppy Shores, said smaller counties can't even begin to pay their jail bills.

With it being an election year, Carper said he expected the session to be a quiet one. But he said he would still be keeping an eye on the Statehouse because counties are usually put into defensive mode as different bills pass.

In addition to jail costs, legislators may be taking a look at other issues impacting local governments.

Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, said he expects to delve into unfunded liabilities for fire and police pensions.

Foster chairs the Senate Committee on Pensions.

Sen. Vic Sprouse, R-Kanawha, who has said he isn't running for re-election this year, touted the Republican Party's views on slashing taxes, such as the business tax, instead of gradually repealing them.

The Charleston Chamber, which hosted the event, unveiled its list of legislative goals at the breakfast.

Chamber Chairman James Sturgeon said the group will push again for nonpartisan judicial elections, transportation funding and eliminating the business franchise tax this session.

"Whether or not we're a judicial hellhole, we still have a severe image problem," said Sturgeon, referring to the state's partisan judicial elections.

Contact writer Jake Stump at or 348-4842.


Post a Comment

<< Home