By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
County commissioners are converging this week in Clarksburg to discuss a problem afflicting many of their administrations: How to pay down the continuous regional jail bill.
The County Commission Association of West Virginia is meeting Oct. 14 and 15 for a conference titled “The Jail Cost Summit,” said Mercer County Commissioner Mike Vinciguerra.
In September, about $154,000 was added to Mercer County’s jail bill for a total of $738,407. The accumulated bill was $790,884 in August; $760,296 in July, and $694,347 in June.
“All the counties are in the same shape,” Vinciguerra said of money owed to the state’s regional jail system. Many of the Mercer County inmates being kept at the Southern Regional Jail in Beaver are there on drug-related charges.
“It all relates back to prescription drugs, mostly,” Vinciguerra said. “The majority of the people we have in the jail, 83 or 84 percent, is all related to drugs. It’s a shame, too.”
Mercer County’s September jail bill — for approximately $154,000 — showed the county had 180 inmates at the jail, according to County Clerk Verlin Moye.
Keeping up with the money owed to the regional jail is a constant strain on a county’s budget, he said.
“It puts a lot of pressure on it,” Vinciguerra explained. “We’re trying to catch up with what we owe now. We try to make payments, but it all depends on how the tax money comes into the budget.”
Mercer County budgets between $1.4 million to $1.5 million a year to handle jail expenses. In the past, the county owed as much as $1.6 million to the jail system, said Commissioner Jay Mills.
“I think we’ve done really good,” he said of paying off part of the jail bill. “We’ve really, really tried to get it down, and I think we’ve done a good job on it and keeping our current jail bill paid.”
The commissioners hope to pay off the bill entirely.
“The goal would be to pay it off and not have to worry about the back pay, and every month just pay the bill and leave us with a zero balance,” Vinciguerra said.
Having a jail bill that could be paid off regularly would allow the county to accumulate a rainy day fund to help with unforeseen expenses. As of now, the county does not have such a fund, he said.
County commissioners attending the upcoming Jail Cost Summit will share ideas for reducing their county’s jail expenses.
“Probably what we’ll end up doing is try to come up with some ideas our lobbyists can take to the Legislature when they meet in January. Maybe they can come up with better ideas on how to help us. It’s just a strain on all the counties’ budgets,” Vinciguerra said.