CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The West Virginia Regional Jail Authority has collected less and less money from court fees in recent years, making it increasingly difficult for state jails to pay their construction bond debt.
Joe DeLong, the jail authority's executive director, told members of the Legislature's joint judiciary committee Tuesday morning that the authority no longer collects enough money from court fees to cover its $9 million yearly bond payments.
State jails collected just $7.9 million in court fees last year.
That's down significantly from 2004, when the authority brought in $13 million in court fees. DeLong said the drop began in 2007, when fee income fell to $8.7 million.
"We're no longer collecting enough money to pay the bond obligation," he said.
That is making the state's bond insurers in New York nervous. DeLong said he has spent a lot of time over the last few months, both in person and over the phone, trying to assure the bond insurers that West Virginia will not default on its loans.
He said he does not know why revenue from fees has dropped.
"We know, based off of the overpopulation and overcrowding issues . . . that we certainly have more people coming through the court system now."
The state has $62 million in bond debt for construction projects at jails. All that money is due in 2021, when the bonds are set to mature.
DeLong said if fee collections continue to decline, the state will need to find another revenue source for the jail authority.