CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Regional Jails Authority is using funds generated by inmate phone calls and commissary sales to pay its bond debts since court fees set aside to cover those liabilities no longer bring in enough money.
Tony Atkins, chief financial officer for the Regional Jail Authority, told lawmakers at an interim meeting on Monday the agency is required to pay $8.9 million per year toward bonds it sold in 1998.
The legislature originally intended court fees would cover the Regional Jail Authority's bond payments, but court fee collections have run about $5.6 million short since 2007. Atkins said he's not sure why court fees are falling, but they have dropped each year since 2007. Those fees generated only $7.4 million for the Regional Jail Authority in fiscal year 2013, which ended June 30.
Joe DeLong, executive director of the jail authority, said the agency is plugging the hole with money generated by inmate phone calls and sales at jail commissaries, about $3 million per year.
Delegate John Ellem, R-Wood, asked DeLong why the Regional Jail Authority reduced per diem prisoner costs to counties last year if it is not making enough money to pay its bond debts. Last October, the Regional Jail Authority reduced the amount counties pay the authority from $48.80 per day, per inmate, to $48.25. The change was expected to save counties more than $500,000.
"If we're losing money in one area, why are we reducing billings in another?" Ellem said. DeLong said state law prevents the jail authority from using per diem costs to fund its bond payments.
The regional jails authority borrowed $177.5 million through a bond sale in 1998. The state still owes $56.5 million on those bonds, which mature in July 2021.
Also at Monday's meeting, Atkins told legislators the Regional Jail Authority's facilities are worth about $122 million, but the average jail is about 16 years old. The average facility age should ideally be between five and seven years, he said.
"We have not made significant investments in our jails and facilities," he said.
The state's oldest jail, Eastern Regional Jail in Martinsburg, was built in April 1989. The authority plans to invest around $13 million in its facilities over the next year, including $5.6 million for a new camera system, $6 million for roofs, $500,000 on its parking lots, $600,000 on new doors and gates, and $300,000 for carbon monoxide detectors.