County moving forward on sheriff’s office

Timothy C. Carter

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County plans to look for a firm to design a new sheriff’s office and to see if it could save money by building a local jail.

The Board of Supervisors on Thursday directed administrative staff to issue a request for proposals seeking architectural and engineering services from firms interested in designing a sheriff’s office complex. Once selected, the county would put the firm’s design out to bid for construction.

The county has identified land on North Main Street in Woodstock near the government center as a possible site for a sheriff’s office. Sheriff Timothy Carter has said that money, referred to as asset forfeiture funds, awarded to the county through his office’s work with federal law enforcement agencies would cover the cost to build a new facility.

Vice Chairman Conrad Helsley asked if the request could address the issue of the possible creation of a new local jail. Page County officials made it known last month that they are interested in buying into the Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren Regional Jail near Front Royal. Supervisor Cindy Bailey subsequently asked county staff to look into how much it has spent related to the creation and operation of the regional jail, then use that information in the negotiation process between the regional jail authority and Page County.

Chairman David Ferguson said he remains supportive of the county joining the regional jail effort. But Ferguson also voiced support for the county revisiting the idea of comparing that to building a local jail if for no other reason than to reinforce his argument that the regional facility is a more cost-effective solution.

“Unfortunately, there are citizens of Shenandoah County who do not feel that is correct, that we can build and operate a local jail at a cost less than what we’d [pay to] participate in a regional jail,” Ferguson said, adding that this would be the only opportunity to settle the argument. “If you’re so adamant that we made a mistake, why wouldn’t you want to do this?”

Carter, a vocal opponent of the county’s decision to join the regional jail years ago, hasn’t come out in support of revisiting the idea of building a local facility. Carter voiced concerns about restoring the jail staff he lost to the regional facility and where local inmates would stay during the process should the county withdraw from the authority. Helsley said inmates would remain at the regional jail.

Bailey reminded supervisors that Shenandoah County can’t withdraw from Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren Regional Jail Authority without the required number of votes by its board’s members. Bailey said she doesn’t want to delay work on the sheriff’s office complex. Helsley said he didn’t think the regional jail issue would hold up the local process.

Helsley, on the jail board with Carter since 2010, said he doesn’t see its members having a problem if Page County wants to join and Shenandoah County asks to leave. Supervisor Marsha Shruntz asked Helsley if he would support that switch.

“If it’s cost effective, I would not only back it, I’d make the motion, if it’s cost effective for Shenandoah County to get out and let Page County go in,” Helsley said. “I think your member counties — your Warren County and your Rappahannock County – as they look at it, Shenandoah County is always complaining and moaning and groaning about it, they’d rather have a county in there that they felt comfortable with.”

Helsley pointed out that the authority wouldn’t mind the switch given that Shenandoah and Page counties provide roughly the same number of inmates.

The request as drafted allows the county to ask the firm hired to also look at the space needs of the office of the circuit court clerk and the re-use of the old jail. Assistant County Administrator Evan Vass noted that asset forfeiture money could not be used for this aspect of the work. The architect also could be asked to look at the possibility of adding space to the sheriff’s office complex to house other public safety operations. Asset forfeiture money would not cover the cost to build the extra space.

Vass said it likely would take 60-90 days to advertise for the services, interview firms and award a contract.

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