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County expects to see rise in health expenses, jail costs

Health care expenses, utility bills and payments to the regional jail system will likely increase in the coming year, Kanawha officials believe.

The end of the year is quickly approaching, and that means county officials soon will begin work on the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Commission President Kent Carper said at a meeting Thursday afternoon he would submit a plan similar to the current $49 million budget.

The county budgeted about $5.8 million to cover health care costs for the current fiscal year, said David Fontalbert, chief fiscal officer for the county. The line item received a $750,000 supplement for increased costs, he said.

Fontalbert foresees a possible 10 percent increase in the health care line item.

"We really have no control over the health care costs," he said.

The county likely will see an increase in the cost to house inmates at South Central Regional Jail. That line item is currently $4.6 million per year, Carper said.

He isn't planning on any across-the-board raises for county employees.

Fontalbert will send a letter to other elected officials asking them to submit budget requests to the commission by Feb. 15. Budget hearings will be held between Feb. 15 and March 21.

The budget must be submitted to the state auditor's office by March 28, he said. 

Commissioners also approved a request by Sheriff-elect John Rutherford to appoint his older brother, current sheriff Mike Rutherford, as chief deputy.

John will take over the sheriff's position on Jan. 1. He retired from the sheriff's department in August to run for the office.

He took over as interim director of the Metro 911 Center after he retired from police work. 

Mike will make about $82,000 a year as chief deputy. That's about $5,000 more than his brother did in that position.

"I'm honored to vote for this," Carper said.

The Rutherfords have shown nothing but integrity and honesty while serving the citizens of Kanawha County, Carper added.

Carper also pointed out that although John asked that his brother be appointed to the position, commissioners had final say.

"You didn't hire him; we did," Carper said.

A committee was formed to explore the appointment and recommended the elder Rutherford for the job. Charleston Mayor Danny Jones, a former sheriff; Kanawha County Prosecutor Mark Plants; and former Chief Deputy Larry Herald served on the committee.

The committee's formation was not necessary, Carper said, but the step was taken in an "abundance of caution" and to assure others that nepotism was not taking place.

Allen Bleigh will continue to serve as chief tax deputy. Don Searls will remain director of the day report center and drug court, and Harry Carpenter will continue to serve as chief of the home confinement office.

"It's like the Blues Brothers - we're getting the band back together," John said.

Tony Keller was appointed to serve as chief of the legal processes division.  

In other commission news, Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Duke Bloom administered the oath of office to Carper for his fourth term. Bloom is a former county commissioner.

Mike Rutherford named Deputy Christopher D. Lyons as deputy of the year. Lyons is a four-year veteran of the Kanawha County Sheriff's Department.

He currently serves in the road patrol division.     

Contact writer Paul Fallon at paul.fallon@dailymail.com or 304-348-4817. Follow him at www.twitter.com/PaulBFallon.  


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