D.C. trip productive, but no definite answers given on WTRJ

Published 12:14 pm Friday, September 13, 2013

FRANKLIN—Several local representatives traveled to Washington, D.C., to talk with federal officials and congressmen about a potential shortfall of the Western Tidewater Regional Jail.

The jail is set to have a financial shortfall come Oct. 1 if the U.S. Marshal Service pulls inmates and moves them to a Virginia Beach jail as planned. The WTRJ would lose $2.3 million this fiscal year if the move transpires, and localities that support it, including Franklin, Isle of Wight County and the City of Suffolk, would be forced to come up with the money for that shortfall in the operating budget.

The meeting, which had been scheduled for two weeks, had a notable absence — the U.S. Marshal Service. The Marshal Service cancelled at the last minute.

“It was very disappointing from my perspective that they decided at the last hour to not attend the meeting,” said Isle of Wight Sheriff Mark Marshall, who was one of the local officials to attend the event. “It is frustrating. The financial impact is pretty severe if those prisoners are lost.”

Ward 4 Councilwoman Mona Murphy, City Manager Randy Martin, Southampton County Sheriff Jack Stutts and jail Superintendent William Smith also attended, along with representatives from Suffolk and other areas in the Hampton Roads region, as well as officials representing a jail in the Northern Neck region of Virginia that would be affected by the Marshal move.

Three congressmen were present including U.S. Reps. Randy Forbes, Bobby Scott and Rob Wittman. U.S. Rep. Scott Rigell sent a representative.

Staff members of the congressmen, as well as representatives from the subcommittee on crime terrorism were also present.

“It was a productive anyway, but it would have been more so if they had been there,” said Martin referring to the Marshal Service. “I’m glad we went. I’m not being critical of the congressmen. I’m very appreciative of them taking time out of their schedules to meet with us with all that is going on. It was of help.”

Martin said from here there are two events that need to happen before the next local meeting involving the Western Tidewater Regional Jail.

The first event is that the Marshal Service is supposed to meet with the Sheriff’s Association at the organization’s meeting in Norfolk today. Marshall said he hoped the Marshal Service would be there to answer some questions.

“I am optimistic that we can come to some kind of resolution, in which all parties, not just the Western Tidewater Regional Jail, can be satisfied,” he said. “There are a number of localities here in the Hampton Roads area that are impacted by the decision to move the majority of these inmates to one facility in Virginia Beach.”

Martin said after that it would be to see what the congressmen could do.

“There are steps that they are going to pursue on the congressional end,” he said. “It is in the congressmen’s hand at this point.”

Forbes said of Wednesday’s meeting, “Citizens deserve to know that the process by which their tax dollars are spent is open, transparent, fair and results in the best value for their money. Yesterday’s meeting was the first step in a bipartisan effort towards vigorous oversight to ensure there is a fair process in place and that all parties are operating on a level playing field.”

Martin had three words for this process: frustrating, disappointing, but mostly the key word was puzzling.

“Having dealt with many matters involved the federal government, personally, in my decades of experience in working with these efforts, this one is surprising in a lot of ways,” he said. “It was worth the trip, but I was disappointed that we didn’t get a face-to-face with the Marshals to answer our questions. I can’t explain why that did not happen.

“We are in the dark at this point, other than what we were told that on Oct. 1 the prisoners will be transferred. Don’t know what happens after that at this point. Hopefully we get an extended stay of moving prisoners, until this matter is resolved.”

Smith agreed with Martin in that the congressmen were helpful.

“They were receptive in trying to remedy the situation,” he said. “I feel like they are trying to assist us with the situation. I think it was a very positive meeting.”

In Franklin, the financial impact on citizens could be that property taxes are increased 7 cents per $100 of property value, while the increase could be 1 cent per $100 property value in Isle of Wight County.

“This will have a real negative impact locally,” Martin said. “Right now, we will have to come up with a short-term response, but we are more concerned about the long-term impact. This is really a concern.”