Regional jail costs are the primary concern for the County Commissioner's Association of West Virginia in the upcoming legislative session, officials said Wednesday.
Seven county commissioners from Randolph, Mineral, Hampshire and Grant County attended a regional meeting of the CCAWV in Elkins Wednesday to discuss the upcoming legislative session. Randolph County Commission President Mike Taylor and fellow Commissioners Chris See and Joyce Johns were in attendance. Del. Bill Hartman, D-Randolph, was also on hand.
"Our number one issue is jail costs," CCAWV Executive Director Vivian Parsons said. "The cost to the counties for incarcerations are going up."
She said substance abuse problems are leading to the increase.
"We are trying to look at every angle possible to cut these costs," Parsons said.
Taylor said Randolph County has budgeted $750,000 for the year for incarceration fees and it may not be enough.
"We are not sure this will cover it," he said.
Parsons told those in attendance that similar meetings will be held throughout the state so commissioners can discuss legislative issues. She said 22 counties were represented at a legislative summit conducted in October, where the top issue was jail costs.
Parsons discussed the organizations' top five priorities for reducing jail costs. The first is creating a method to collect outstanding court costs.
"There is a lot of court costs that are being assessed, but not being collected," she said. "There is a lot sitting there that is not collected."
She said one way to collect the money is to have any outstanding fees checked when someone attempts to renew their vehicle registration or license.
"There is also withholding income tax returns for outstanding court costs in magistrate and circuit court," she said.
The second priority is to have the jail costs shared among all arresting entities.
"Cities have a free ticket," she said. "If a municipal police officer arrests someone on state charges, the county pays the jail costs."
She suggested that the arresting officer's entity will pay for the first day of jail time.
The third priority is to support proposed changes to the Regional Jail Association's personnel budgeting requirements and limited latitude in calculating the cost.
"We are supporting them to take in more revenue sources," she said. "They have to budget for every position even though they are not funded."
Parsons said the fourth priority is to establish a pre-trial diversion program. Instead of someone being sentenced to prison they could complete a program to have the charge removed from their record, she said.
"If someone is arrested and pleads guilty and completes the program the charge can be taken off their record," she said. "It would be at their cost.
Taylor said the community corrections program could come into play and assist with the diversion program.
The fifth priority is to encourage public education and awareness programs regarding jail costs and the effect on county services. She said legislation needs to make sure the punishment fits the crime.
"We want our streets safe," Parsons said. "At the same time we want to be smart."
Hartman said if the jail costs by each county are examined, Randolph County had a 27 percent drop in costs from 2010 to 2012. In Randolph County costs were $686,898 in 2010; $554,217 in 2011 and $503,909 in 2012.
"I would say that is from community corrections," Hartman said.
Mineral County Commissioner Dr. Richard Lechliter said his county also has the community corrections program, but it has not reduced costs.
"We do community corrections and our costs have increased 30 percent," he said. "We have done everything we can."