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Chairman: Board didn't know of no-cost jail option

By Alex Bridges

WOODSTOCK -- A Shenandoah County supervisor says neither he nor anyone on his board knew of an option to build a new jail at no local cost.

Chairman David Ferguson made the statement at the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday in response to claims made in an article published recently in a local newspaper. The article reported that supervisors outright rejected on more than one occasion an offer by Sheriff Timothy Carter that he could fund the cost to build a new jail without local tax dollars. Rather, the sheriff would use money it receives from the federal asset seizure program.

"No such offer was ever made to the board at any meeting, open or closed, day or night, in this room or elsewhere," Ferguson read from a statement. "The board in work sessions and in open sessions considered various jail options for years and concluded the regional option was the most cost-effective."

"There is room to disagree with that," Ferguson added. "But to suggest that the board turned down a free option is simply not true."

The Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail on U.S. 340-522 opened for use July 1. Participating counties begin paying off the debt for the $72 million project and their share of the operational costs for the facility this fiscal year.

Carter did not attend the board meeting Tuesday and had not been told ahead of time that Ferguson planned to make a statement. Carter said by phone that he held private briefings with supervisors as early as spring 2011. These meetings were not open to the press or the public.

"But whatever was said [by Ferguson], it's irrelevant to me that anyone remembers the details of private briefings that we gave them," Carter said. "What's relevant is that ... there is a piece of real property and the intent is that it will be disposed of and conveyed to county use, which will involve board input."

The sheriff didn't identify the piece of property he expects the county should receive in the future but did comment that it may serve as the site for a new office headquarters.

"To be quite frank about it ... I don't think they listened to any of the options that I gave them, but that's beside the point," Carter added.

The sheriff recalled that he presented the board with a possible option to build a jail with money awarded to his agency through the federal asset seizure program.

"When this office got involved in a couple of large cases where there were large seizures involved, I did reach out to the board and I did have private meetings with board members, all board members, with regards to the aspects of the funds that had been received by the county and what we expected to receive," Carter recalled. "We had an obligation to let the board know that those things were happening."

As the chairman noted at the meeting, the amount of money the county receives through the sheriff's efforts can change.

"We don't know what asset forfeiture funds will be coming to the county in future years, 'cause they are typically the result of confidential, law enforcement operations," Ferguson said.

The county and its sheriff must follow federal guidelines on how the money awarded through the asset forfeiture program can be spent.

"There are legal restrictions on the use of asset forfeiture funds which prevent the county or the sheriff from doing whatever they choose with the money," Ferguson added.

"All such decisions concerning the use of asset forfeiture fund disbursements needing board approval will be in open session," Ferguson noted.

The chairman said he has asked Carter to come to the board's night meeting Aug. 26 to discuss the matter in open session.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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