CHARLESTON — Counties rebelling against the higher per diem cost of housing inmates could force the 10-facility regional jail system in West Virginia to shut down if enough revenues fail to come in, lawmakers were warned last Monday.

Sen. Shirley Love raised the specter of a snowball effect after his home county of Fayette voted recently to pay the old daily rate of $45.

Jail costs rose to $48.50 in June, triggering a backlash that Love speculated might catch fire elsewhere.

“Could this have a domino effect?” inquired Love, D-Fayette, co-chair of the Legislative Oversight Committee on Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority.

“Yes, it could,” Regional Jails Director Wyetta Fredericks replied. “If we don’t have revenues to run the jails, we’ll have to close the jails.”

If push came to shove, she suggested, the system might seek an emergency rule to force payment of the money counties owe.

In a recent session, the Fayette County Commission unanimously voted to roll back the per diem rate it has paid the past two fiscal years, from $45 a day to a state “blended rate” of $41.76.

By doing so, the commission was seeking a legal challenge, in which case, the matter would be taken up in Fayette County Circuit Court.

Cabell County got the ball rolling in dissenting over higher jail costs, and back on May 15, Circuit Judge David Pancake ruled in favor of the county commission.

The court held the regional jail authority lacked a required quorum when it voted to raise the rate.

Moreover, Pancake ruled the authority didn’t apply the statutory formula for calculating the daily rate.

By the end of this week, Fredericks told the panel, the jail system plans to present its appeal to the state Supreme Court.

In a written presentation to the committee, Frederick said Fayette, Harrison and Putnam counties are “threatening” to cut their payments in line with Pancake’s ruling.

— E-mail:mannix@register-herald.com

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