Brooke concerned about jail fees

WELLSBURG – Brooke County Commissioner Tim Ennis expressed concern about the county’s rising regional jail bills.

The commission pays $48.80 for each day spent by an inmate from Brooke County at the Northern Regional Jail.

“This is serious stuff. We’ll spend in excess of $700,000 this year housing prisoners and animals. That’s one-sixth of our budget,” Ennis, said referring also to expenses at the county’s animal shelter.

He said the commission has spent more than $400,000 for inmates arrested not only by the sheriff’s department but also the state police and municipal police departments.

“We know the cities have financial issues as well, but we’re picking up the whole load, and it isn’t fair,” he said.

Ennis said a change in state code is needed for the other entities to contribute to the inmates’ cost. He said it’s something the commission may pursue in the future.

Rising jail fees have been a recurring complaint in recent months even though the county has been a pioneer in alternative sentences ordered through drug, mental health and other courts that involve fines, community service and counseling instead of jail time.

In other business, the commission renewed health coverage for its 68 full-time employees at a cost of about $1 million through the Health Plan of the Upper Ohio Valley.

Ennis had moved for a plan calling for the employees to be responsible for full yearly deductibles of $2,000 for family coverage and $1,000 for individual coverage.

But it failed to gain a second, so Commissioner Norma Tarr proposed reducing the deductibles to $1,000 for family coverage and $500 for individual coverage, with the employees responsible for the first half.

Commissioner Jim Andreozzi, who participated by phone due to illness, said that would increase the commission’s cost about $60,000. But he added, “I think we should be able to find that in the budget.”

Earlier this year, the commission cut the budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year, from $7.1 million in last year’s budget to $6.6 million, citing declining revenue.

The commissioners thanked Jonette Lazasz, an insurance broker, for her assistance in pursuing various insurance options.

Also on Tuesday:

Brooke County Sheriff Chuck Jackson said Stacie Stofen will return to his department as a dispatcher for the emergency 911 center and two new deputies will be hired to fill vacancies there. Jackson said earlier he’d held off filling the vacancies to cut costs but found the savings in benefits for the deputies wasn’t offset by the overtime worked by the others.

He praised his deputies who he said “have done a lot more with a lot less. I’m proud of them and hope they can maintain the pace while we get them some relief.”

Jackson said while a murder once was a rare occurrence in Brooke County, there have been four, including one investigated by Weirton Police, in the last year and a half.

The commissioners approved the hiring of Jamie Goff as a part-time employee of the animal shelter and reappointed Duane Heck of Follansbee to the West Virginia Route 2 and Interstate 68 Authority.

They also received a letter from James Hervey seeking reappointment to the Washington Pike Public Service District. They agreed to accept letters of interest in the seat for two weeks, as is their policy.