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Hard questions at town hall

Posted on Wednesday, September 11, 2013 at 9:36 am

U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) fielded a barrage of questions at a meeting with area residents last week.

U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) fielded a barrage of questions at a meeting with area residents last week.

The Northern Neck Regional Jail took center stage last Thursday during a town hall meeting with U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) at the Rappahannock Community College in Warsaw.

Westmoreland County Administrator Norm Risavi, who is on the jail board, expressed concerns about a recent agreement the U.S. Marshal Service made with Virginia Beach’s sheriff that could shift federal prisoners and federal income away from the regional jail. The agreement guarantees a daily minimum of 75 federal inmates to the Virginia Beach Correctional Center.

According to Westmoreland County Sheriff C.O. Balderson, a similar deal had also been reached between the U.S. Marshal Service and Meherrin River Regional Jail in Brunswick County.

Localities count on money generated by jails housing federal prisoners.

“We can’t absorb 15 percent of our income with the loss of those prisoners at that jail without it having a dramatic impact on the town,” said Warsaw Town

Manager John Slusser. “If their jail population is cut by 20 percent, our taxes are going to go up a nickel on every $100, or we have to raise rates, and that’s going to affect businesses.

He said 30 percent of the town’s revenue from water and sewer comes from the jail.

“Everybody thinks about the first level of the impact on the jail,” he said. “But there is a second level that trickles right on down.”

Warner said communities should not be building business plans based on how many prisoners they can bring into their local jail systems.

“Let’s face it,” he said. “In Virginia, we overbuilt prisons for a long time and we relied upon bringing prisoners from Hawaii and Wyoming and all these other states. That’s just not a good business model.”

Warner said there was the possibility that Central Virginia and Hampton Roads could be used as Mid-Atlantic feeder spots for federal prisoners instead of “more expensive prisons and jails in New England.”

“I don’t want to get ahead of myself because there’s still some numbers to crunch,” he said.

Risavi said the jail board had been informed by U.S. Marshal Robert Mathieson about the effects of the federal sequestration on his budget.

“We clearly understand all these issues, and we will certainly sit down and take an opportunity to see where we can reduce costs,” said Risavi. “We’ve got to have a level playing field.”

In August the Virginian Pilot reported that Virginia Beach Sheriff Ken Stolle offered to transport federal inmates to his jail for free and charge $55 a day, per inmate instead of the $63 other jails charge. The state pays jails about $12 per day to house one inmate. The agreement was put on hold last month after other Virginia jails complained.