Representatives travel to D.C. for regional jail meeting

Published 10:30 am Wednesday, September 11, 2013

FRANKLIN—City Manager Randy Martin, Ward 4 Councilwoman Mona Murphy, Southampton County Sheriff Jack Stutts, and Isle of Wight County Sheriff Mark Marshall will travel to Washington D.C. today to meet with U.S. Marshal and government representatives about the Western Tidewater Regional Jail.

They will be discussing will be the proposed movement of federal inmates from the jail to a site in Virginia Beach. If approved, this would result in a shortfall that the community representative bodies, which includes Franklin and Isle of Wight County, would be on the hook for.

If a compromise cannot be reached, the property tax rate in Franklin might have to go up 7 percent to make up for this shortfall. In Isle of Wight, the tax rate would go up almost a penny.

Martin said alternatives could include cutting services or both raising taxes and cutting services.

Officials at the meeting will include Virginia Eastern District U.S. Marshal Robert Mathieson, Virginia Rep. Randy Forbes, and U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.).

Franklin Ward 1 Councilman Barry Cheatham said it was his understanding that there is a plan that will be heard, which will make everyone happy.

Cheatham said at the city’s regularly scheduled meeting Monday the only plan that would make him happy is if the city doesn’t have to cover a shortfall.

Spokesperson with Isle of Wight County Don Robertson said the county was waiting to see the outcome of the meeting.

“The loss of revenue that comes along with those inmates is significant,” he said. “If they plan to move the inmates to another facility, hopefully it can be done in a way that we can plan for it and hopefully not create any budget shortfall that will not impact the member communities.”

A few weeks ago, Western Tidewater Regional Jail Superintendent William C. Smith sent a letter to area officials stating that the U.S. Marshal Office would be reducing the number of inmates it was placing in the facility.

The Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office had made an unsolicited proposal to the Marshal Office to house the inmates, which the Marshals accepted and the arraignment is set to begin Tuesday, Oct. 1.

“They believed that by using Virginia Beach, they could save some money,” Smith said to The Suffolk News-Herald. “According to them, they didn’t have to ask us if we wanted to make a counteroffer.”

Of course, fewer inmates will mean less expense for items including food. But there still are fixed costs that don’t change with the number of inmates, he said.

“Jails are a really lean organization,” Smith said. “The majority of it is made up of personnel expenses, then maintenance expenses, then food service. There’s not a whole lot to cut.”

The WTRJ would continue to house approximately 50 U.S. Marshal inmates. However, the budget is based on housing 165 inmates. The expected loss of revenue would be $227,000 monthly, or approximately $2.3 million this fiscal year. The loss would be roughly 20 percent of its operating budget.

The jail serves Franklin, Suffolk and Isle of Wight County. The member jurisdictions are responsible for funding the jail.

For this fiscal year, which is already budgeted for based on having these inmates, the City of Franklin and Isle of Wight County would be responsible for approximately $350,000, while Suffolk would have to come up with $1.6 million to cover the shortfall if this deal were to go down, said Cheatham.