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New jail makes planning for yearly budget more difficult

by Paul Darst

STAFF WRITER

Harrison County officials are headed into this budget season with more uncertainty than usual.

Because the North Central Regional Jail is scheduled to open this summer, the county correctional center will close, leaving commissioners unsure about how much money to set aside for that budget line item, said Jim Harris, commission administrator.

But the county has gotten some guidance on the matter from the West Virginia Auditors Office, which recommends putting plenty of money into the jail account,

"If we budget more than is needed, it will go back into the county's general fund," Harris said of the state recommendation.

The commission sets the budgets for all six of the county's constitutional offices: Sheriff, prosecuting attorney, assessor, county clerk, circuit court clerk and the commission itself.

Normally, once money is allotted to those offices, the commission cannot take it back, Harris said. But the auditors office has advised that any unused funds from the correctional center account should go back to the county, he said.

Sheriff Jim Jack had asked the commission for guidance on this matter during a meeting two weeks ago.

"I can't submit a budget that's in reality based upon last year's budget," Jack told the commission.

At the time, commissioners Beth Taylor, Roger Diaz and Tom Keeley advised him to base this year's jail fund on last year's and that adjustments could be made later.

This year's correctional center budget stands at $1.06 million, Harris said. The county's total budget for this year is in excess of $12 million, he said.

The commission staff is doing preliminary work on next fiscal year's budget, which begins July 1, but do not know yet how much it will be, Harris said. Commissioners will discuss and finalize the budget in March. It is due in Charleston March 28.

The opening of the regional jail, and consequential closing of the county jail, is expected to help Harrison County financially, officials have said.

Although the county will pay the state a fee for each prisoner housed in the new facility, the commission will no longer be responsible for the expense of feeding or providing for the prisoners' medical needs.

Additionally, the county will no longer have to pay salaries and benefits for jail employees, although a small number might be retained for a county holding facility.

Staff writer Paul Darst can be reached at 626-1404 or by e-mail at pdarst@exponent-telegram.com.

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