AP NEWS

Cabell eyes end of jail debt this year

March 30, 2019

HUNTINGTON — After years of racking up bills to the state Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority, the Cabell County Commission is on track to completely pay off its jail debt later this year.

The West Virginia State Auditor’s Office sent commissioners a letter this week requesting they submit a plan to pay off $1.6 million in debt for Cabell County prisoners housed in the Western Regional Jail in Barboursville.

Commission President Nancy Cartmill said Thursday the $1 million the county received from Cabell Huntington Hospital earlier this year would be applied to that debt. That will put the county on track to completely pay off the jail bill by September or October of this year, she said.

“We’re going to get that behind us,” Cartmill said. “We feel like that’s the best use of the money and the best thing we can do at this point in time.”

In November 2018, commissioners approved a deal with Cabell Huntington Hospital that saw them give up the county’s right to name three people to the hospital’s 18-member board of directors in exchange for $1 million. The county received the money after Huntington City

Council approved a similar deal in January.

Money from the hospital deal came without restrictions and commissioners faced questions about how it would be spent, Cartmill said.

“It is a question being asked by a lot of people, especially folks in the courthouse, because they want to know where that $1 million is going to go,” she said.

The $1 million places the county “on the road to recovery with our financial position,” she said.

The county has struggled for years to conquer its regional jail bill, which reached as high as $3 million in 2013. By the end of fiscal year 2016-17, the county was facing a jail bill of $2.8 million while on the hook for rising health care costs and an overall decrease in revenue.

The commission had implemented 10 percent across-the-board budget cuts before facing a lawsuit from five of the county’s elected officials. The lawsuit was eventually settled and resulted in the commission adding $60,000 to the prosecuting attorney’s budget.

“It’s been a slow process, but things just hit us all at once with health care and the jail bill,” Cartmill said. “We just couldn’t get it all done, but this money from the hospital has certainly helped us.”

Cabell, Wayne, Lincoln, Mason and Putnam counties are each responsible for paying for their county’s residents at Western Regional Jail since the facility opened in 2003. Cabell County is currently charged a rate of $48.25 per day per prisoner.

Commissioners in multiple counties have long argued the state or arresting agencies should take on more financial responsibility to operate the state’s 10 regional jails.

In 2007, the state Supreme Court ruled Cabell County could not see relief in paying its regional jail bill. The decision struck down a ruling by a Cabell County Circuit Court judge who previously ordered the lowering of fees that the county was charged per day per prisoner.

The Supreme Court ruled the trial judge did not have the authority to lower the fees, while also noting the fees imposed on the counties created “greater burdens than their revenues justify.”

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.