By Alex Bridges
WOODSTOCK - Shenandoah County could use money by the sheriff's office through drug busts and other operations to help pay for the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail, a supervisor posed Tuesday.
Such use would likely undermine the law enforcement agency's efforts to raise money for a new building, Sheriff Timothy C. Carter said later that day. Supervisors have known for years his agency has faced space needs, Carter added.
Chairman Conrad Helsley's suggestion at Tuesday's Board of Supervisors' meeting appeared to take the sheriff by surprise. Carter told members he only just learned about the idea.
Helsely brought up the proposal as supervisors discussed the sheriff's request to appropriate $264,044 of the $3.6 million from various federal agencies received by the county through law enforcement efforts. Carter sought to use the money to buy items such as replacement cruisers, video cameras and computers not funded in the current budget by local revenue.
Helsley and Supervisor David Ferguson tried to get Carter to respond on whether or not he supported the idea of using most of the funds to help pay for the jail.
"I'm walking in here and you're just dropping this on me here at this meeting without any discussion at all, not to talk about the operational needs of the sheriff's office, not to talk about the staffing needs of the sheriff's office, not to talk about the facility needs of the sheriff's office," Carter said.
Ferguson, who voted against Carter's request, asked whether such funds could help pay for staff salaries and other needs, to which the sheriff said yes, but for a period of time. However, Ferguson also questioned whether that would count as supplanting and not allowed under the federal program rules.
"I need to know I can use those dollars when we're doing our budget," Ferguson said.
Ferguson made comments that Carter has not used the asset forfeiture proceeds to offset a sheriff's office budget the supervisor claimed continues to increase. Helsely, while expressing support for the request, cited Ferguson's comments about using the proceeds.
"I think, as Mr. Ferguson mentioned, one of the best things that we could possibly do would be to take like $3 million of that money and put it toward paying the capital project of the regional jail over in Front Royal, and the reason for that is the very people who are going to be in that facility, you will have their assets to help pay for that," Helsley said. "Not being real sure whether that was allowed or not, we made a call to the feds and they basically said, yes, send us a letter signed by the sheriff and also by the Board of Supervisors and that's basically what we need."
The regional jail on U.S. 340-522 in Warren County is under construction. Shenandoah County will have to pay a percentage of the debt on nearly $80 million in loans used to build the facility. Carter, a member of the jail authority by statute, has opposed the project based on its cost to Shenandoah County residents.
Helsley said it appears to be a "win-win" situation for taxpayers.
Carter noted, "We need things just to operate year to year ... and you're telling me that you would want basically [to] take those funds from just the day-to-day operations of trying to protect the people in this county."
At the end of the discussion, Helsley told the board members they likely could revisit the issue at their night meeting on Oct. 23.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org