Officials stay the course despite residents' urging to pull out of planned regional facility
By Sally Voth -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WOODSTOCK -- Despite renewed public opposition, the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors seems intent on staying the course with the proposed regional jail project.
A handful of residents urged the panel at its Feb. 28 meeting to drop its plans to participate in a regional lockup with Rappahannock and Warren counties. The RSW Regional Jail is expected to cost $72 million in construction and initial expenses.
The state is expected to reimburse the localities for a little less than half of the construction costs, plus half of the land acquisition, water and sewer connections, architectural and engineering services, and some technology costs. There is no longer state reimbursement for local-only facilities.
Supervisors Chairman Conrad Helsley said at last week's meeting that state legislators can pull the project out of the state budget, a point disputed Monday by Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock.
Rather, that power lies with the supervisors, Gilbert said.
"There's a number of people that have the ability," District 3 Supervisor David Ferguson said Tuesday. "The supervisors, if they choose not to fund the jail and they choose not to accept the state matching 50 percent grant, then the supervisors have a role to play.
"Definitely Todd and [Sen. Mark] Obenshain have their role to play as well."
But, Ferguson doesn't see the Board of Supervisors changing course.
"We're going to, I assume eventually in March or April, [we] will be voting on whether or not to proceed with the construction of the jail," he said. "It's my feeling that we will proceed. I'm not going to take any action that I know at this point to ask the legislators not to fund 50 percent of the cost of the jail. I still feel that the sheriff has made his case that he needs a jail. We have to build a jail.
Shenandoah County Sheriff Timothy C. Carter has criticized the regional jail approach for the past several years. He was recently asked by the Board of Supervisors to give his position on the issue.
In a letter to the panel dated Feb. 25, Carter says he'd stated in the past something had to be done to deal with an aging jail and future population estimates.
"I recommended that the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors not enter into the RSW Regional Jail Authority," the letter says. "My position has not changed and has been consistent for years now ... I was prepared to continue the use of our current facility in conjunction with other options if that was the outcome of the Board's decision."
Other options include using house arrest and work release programs, and sending excess inmates to other jails.
Helsley said on Tuesday the regional jail is a good project.
"Pretty much this ship has left the dock," he said. "We went through great discussion before we made this decision."
Helsley said the decision was made using sound research, and that some analysis provided by Carter regarding other solutions wasn't accurate.
"You've just got to regionalize stuff to have cost savings," he said.
At a presentation earlier this year, the supervisors were told a 5-cent tax increase might be needed to cover the cost of paying for the new jail. Helsley said Tuesday he didn't know if taxes will be raised to pay the tab.
"I can't answer that," he said. "Everything goes up. Gasoline goes up. Your food that you buy goes up. I can't guarantee you there will never be a tax increase."
But, it would also cost money to build a local jail, Helsley said. Plus, the county has given its word to two other localities.
"Not only have we bought the land, but we've hired the architect and the design is totally completed," Helsley said. "If you wanted to have these discussions, you should've had them 21⁄2 years ago."
Pulling out of the agreement could put the county at risk of legal action from Rappahannock and Warren counties, he said.
The decision to go with the regional approach was made with a long-term outlook, District 2 Supervisor Steve Baker said.
"Why it's come back at this time, it's beyond me," he said. "I think if we can just present it to people, maybe they will understand where we're trying to come from there. This certainly isn't an easy decision. I do not take it lightly."