WOODSTOCK — Questions arose at the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday on how to use the $3.6 million collected in asset forfeiture funds seized by law enforcement.
The funds, which are seized from suspects following convictions, are usually used to fill gaps in the sheriff’s office budget as the need arises. Typical purchases include new equipment or training costs.
The board approved Shenandoah County Sheriff Tim Carter’s request to use about $260,000 from the fund to purchase five replacement vehicles, five handguns, specialized leadership training and body cameras for his deputies.
But during the sheriff’s presentation Tuesday, Board Chairman Conrad Helsley asked Carter to sign a motion that would allow the rest of the forfeiture funds to be used toward the county’s portion of paying for the RSW Regional Jail.
The jail, under construction in Warren County, will serve Warren, Shenandoah and Rappahannock counties. The sheriff has the power to decide how to use the funds, so the money cannot be put toward the jail without his approval.
“The first thing I thought was, ‘[This] is the first time I’ve ever heard of that,’” Carter said in an interview Tuesday. “This is not something that [Helsley] and I had discussed previously.”
Helsley said the idea makes sense to him, seeing it as using money seized from inmates to pay for the time they spend in the correctional facility.
Supervisor Dave Ferguson agreed.
“I like the idea that the people that are requiring us to build a facility will pay for it,” he said.
But Carter said he would be reluctant to agree to sign over the funds for several reasons. Most importantly, he said he’s been saving a portion of the money over the last several years for the construction of a new sheriff’s office.
“We have some facility deficiencies in the sheriff’s office … it’s essentially a bomb shelter. There are no windows,” he said.
Carter said the office has been at its Main Street location in Woodstock for at least 30 years, and he is unaware of any upgrades having been made to it during that time.
“Most departments in the county have had their facilities improved or modernized,” he said. “My intent is to build a sheriff’s office at no cost to the taxpayer.”
Plus, Carter said, he still has equipment and staffing needs that he otherwise doesn’t have the funding to cover. More staff likely will be needed with the opening of the regional jail in 2014, he said.
“I wouldn’t make a commitment to what [Helsley] was asking for until I knew how we were going to address those issues,” he said.
The county approved a staffing study to look at how the regional jail will affect law enforcement needs. The study will look at how many officers are needed for patrols, court security and emergency communications, as well as how the new jail will affect transportation and the need for a holding cell.
“If you look at what we are faced with in our county [because of the jail], it’s a little different than any of the other counties [involved in the regional jail],” Carter said.
Warren County, he said, will not have to transport inmates over long distances. Rappahannock is a smaller county and does not have as many incorporated towns as Shenandoah.
The proposal was tabled until the Oct. 23 meeting after other supervisors expressed the need for more discussion with the sheriff.
Contact Kaitlin Mayhew at 574-6290 or firstname.lastname@example.org