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Supervisor says facility a 'no-brainer' for overcrowding

Baroncelli claims efficiency and cost savings of regional jail outweigh those of local lockups

By Sally Voth -- svoth@nvdaily.com

WOODSTOCK -- Building a regional jail to solve overcrowding in the local lockups in Shenandoah, Warren and Rappahannock counties is a "no-brainer," Shenandoah County District 4 Supervisor Sharon Baroncelli said Friday evening.

Her comments came a day after the supervisors' public safety and code committee met with Brooks Ballard, who provides architectural and engineering services to the Virginia Department of Corrections, and Tony Casale of the Department of Criminal Justice Services.

Both said regional jails are cheaper to operate than local facilities. And, if Shenandoah County decided to go with an alternative to a regional lockup -- whether it be a local jail, expanding jail space into the basement of the circuit courthouse that currently houses the Sheriff's Office or building a work-release center -- an exemption to the state's moratorium on jail projects would be required.

The joint project being studied by the three counties has secured an exemption from the General Assembly, as well as a pledge of up to half the cost of construction.

Shenandoah County Sheriff Timothy C. Carter has said that while regional jails do work, he doesn't think alternatives have gotten a fair shake.

"I believe that based on the meeting we had in November of 2007 [between the boards of supervisors from Shenandoah and Warren counties] and the organization and implementation of a regional jail committee that [a regional jail] has been the direction that the board has been going for the last four years," Carter said in a Friday phone interview. "I have an obligation to the citizens of the county to do what I think is in their best interests and I know the board has the same obligation, but we have opposing views in this matter. They haven't convinced me that the regional jail is the best solution for Shenandoah County."

Baroncelli was one of several supervisors who disputed the panel has had its mind made up.

"Oh definitely not," she said. "Why have we dragged out this procedure for almost ... four years of studying and research and all the presentations we've had?"

Baroncelli said some supervisors still have questions about a regional jail.

"I feel at this point with all the information presented, it's really been a no-brainer," she said. "The cost savings and the efficiency of going the regional jail direction as opposed to building three local jails."

"Due diligence" has been given to the matter, Board of Supervisors Chairman David Ferguson said Friday. At the request of a resident, he said he will look for a local jail proponent to address the supervisors. Ferguson said it'll be hard to "overcome" data such as that presented by Casale and Ballard that said local jails cost $8 per bed per day more than regional jails to operate.

"I think it was pretty implicit yesterday that we still have an opportunity to get the 50 percent funding, but the window has closed for local funding, and we may not even get a waiver to build a local jail," Ferguson said. "Taxpayers should have the most economical decision put before them because their tax dollars are going to have to pay for it."

District 5 Supervisor Dennis Morris said the board is getting closer to a decision, but said he had not yet made his decision.

Cindy Bailey, former chief jailer of the Shenandoah County Jail, shares Carter's opinion that the supervisors have made their decision, and she's not convinced the state will reimburse the county 50 percent of the construction costs.

Some members of the board have publicly worried about inconveniencing Warren and Rappahannock counties if Shenandoah County pulls out of the regional project. Bailey said they should consider Shenandoah County's needs first.

She understands the state's economy is suffering.

"But, you can't tell me in five years or 10 years down the road things aren't going to improve, or the state isn't going to say we need to start giving money again to these localities that need to either renovate their facilities and/or build new ones or build some of these community-based programs," Bailey said. "That gives us five to 10 years to work with what we have."

The current jail isn't "in dire straits," she said.

Casale has said the jail was "miles above" one in another Virginia county that faced closure by a judge and was the subject of a federal report.

Baroncelli said the public safety and code committee will review a draft jail service agreement at its Aug. 25 meeting.

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