Webster County ordered to pay $1.5 million jail bill

By Brad McElhinny in News
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Webster County, which fell behind by $1.5 million on its regional jail bill, has been ordered by the Supreme Court to pay up.

The county, which has suffered from lower severance tax collections as the coal industry has bottomed out, may work out a payment plan, according to the decision filed Thursday.

The decision was unanimous. The court noted that precedent was set by a similar case involving Cabell County in 2005.

MORE: Read the decision

“Therefore, we hold that the Commission must pay the debt of approximately $1.31 million dollars it owed to the Regional Jail at the time that this proceeding was filed, in addition to payment of the debt that accrued while this case was pending,” according to the decision.

“We further require the Regional Jail to work out a payment plan with the Commission that allows the Commission to pay the past debt in installments over the course of a reasonable period of time.”

In front of the Supreme Court last week, Webster County Prosecutor Dwayne Vandevender said the county’s budget had been cut so much that it could not stand the jail expense.

“If you look at our budget, we are doing the bare minimum that we can with the Constitutional offices,” Vandevender said.

Justice Brent Benjamin asked how jails could be funded if counties can opt not to contribute.

“If you don’t have the obligation to pay, who pays?” Justice Brent Benjamin asked during the hearing.

This week, Lawrence Messina, spokesman for the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, which oversees the regional jail system, said the state would be glad to work out a payment plan with Webster County.

“The fiscal situation in this state is tough,” Messina said. “We sympathize.”