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Posted March 7, 2012 | comments 7 Comments

Supervisors unswayed on jail project

Officials stay the course despite residents' urging to pull out of planned regional facility

By Sally Voth -- svoth@nvdaily.com

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."

7 Comments | Leave a comment

    "If you wanted to have these discussions, you should've had them 21⁄2 years ago." said Helsley.

    We did have these discussions two and a half years ago and the sentiment was pretty much the same. Many residents and the county sheriff were and still are opposed to it. You didn't care then just like you don't care now. But it's nothing new for Helsley to not care what his constituents think.

    Ha! They're not taking it lightly. Right. Considering no one except the politicians seem to want this thing doesn't matter. The fact that there is a prison sitting empty 10 miles away and Winchester regional jail has shut down an entire wing doesn't matter. Mr. Helsley will just raise property taxes to pay for something unnecessary in a time of economic distress, heck what's it matter to him. He has a job (good paying), what about all the people on fixed incomes who are going to be hit hard when their property taxes go up to the 5% mark?
    The arguments and protests are not new and have always been there (for the past 2 1/2 years sir), the protests are coming more now, simply because discussion didn't work and they didn't listen. Our State representatives have heard about it for a very long time too. Ask them. It is unnecessary and the costs are ridiculous. When you keep the same old, same old in office it's not surprising when you get the same old, same old stuff in return.

    Sounds like some one on the board of supervisors is lining their own pockets off this deal...

    Complete ignorance. Combine that with their arrogance that they already know what everyone of their constituents want regardless of the public sentiment and negative comments that were made back when this jail was in the beginning stages. With the economy the way it is and the funding problem our schools are having, how or why would this jail project be allowed to continue? The other counties are having the same financial problems as Shenandoah, this jail is not needed, something needs to be worked out between all. Pushing this down the road further should be a possibility. Definitely time to clean house, this group does not represent the people who voted for them. A complete replacement is due for each of them.

    Yet you people keep on re-electing them. Until you vote out "Daddy Dave" and his band of Shenco Cronies, this will be the status quo.

    Maybe the issue does not lie with a jail to put people. Maybe the legislators need to be looking at sentencing for criminal offenses. Even if the sheriff were to put other programs into use (house arrest, work release, etc) it still only solves the current overcrowding. It does nothing to correct the long term incarceration needs. You have to have room to run a work release program. If you use the current location of the sheriff's office for work release housing, where are you going to put the sheriff's office? It was a good effort to use this to try and build a new sheriff's office, which is needed, but it didn't work. So, if you build a regional jail, and refurbish the existing building into a modern law enforcement facility to last the next three decades as was done with the old middle school, have you really lost anything? The public wants punishment for crimes. It costs to lock people up. Either regionally or locally, you have to have a facility to do this and it has to meet regulations established by the Commonwealth. Either way, the public will have to pay for it. If not through local taxes, IT WILL COME through state taxes. I'm an advocate for fiscal responsibility, but sometimes being responsible means making decisions that no one (including myself) likes.

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