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Putnam prosecutor on budget: Jail costs 'the elephant in the room'

WINFIELD, W.Va. --Putnam County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Sorsaia told county commissioners Thursday that any increases in his budget request for the 2014-15 fiscal year were because of "the elephant in the room" -- the county's ever-rising jail bill.

"There's a growing frustration with me -- and with other prosecutors in other parts of the state -- about what's going on," he said. "I'm the elected prosecutor in the county, and it's my responsibility to do my very best to protect the quality of life in this community. I think one of the reasons we've been considered one of the best places in the state is our quality of life here, and I have to be quite honest with you -- I'm worried about the crime."      

The number of felony prosecutions in Putnam County has risen roughly 20 percent since 2010, and the county's juvenile prosecutions are up 25 percent, Sorsaia told the Gazette in July. Arrests are up, too; felony arrests in Putnam County have risen 61 percent this year, according to Putnam County Sheriff Steve Deweese.

The jail bill also has risen steadily, from $1.1 million two years ago to $1.4 million last year. County Manager Brian Donat estimates that the jail bill will total $1.8 million this year -- the largest the county has ever seen, and nearly $50 per offender per day.

"I have static monetary resources coupled with an increase in crime, and I have to maintain a standard," Sorsaia said.

Sorsaia gave one of several presentations Tuesday to the County Commission of budget requests for the upcoming fiscal year. The prosecutor has requested $995,106 for 2014-15, an increase of about $15,000, but the projection doesn't include requests for new personnel. The largest increase in Sorsaia's request would be to hire an administrative secretary, with a salary of $27,000 a year, to help the Prosecuting Attorney's Office manage the county's diversion programs, which have expanded in recent years to cope with the uptick in crime.

"So we've $1.8 million, and I couldn't tell you what the jail bill might be without those programs, but one thing I want to make clear is the diversion programs really put a lot of administrative burdens on us," he said. "We have an adult drug court, a juvenile drug court, now we have a veterans' drug court, a day-report program, home confinement through the sheriff's department . . . over the last 10 years, they've inflicted administrative burdens on my office that I didn't have before."

Putnam County Circuit Clerk Ronnie Matthews said those concerns are reflected in his budget, too. According to Matthews, his office is inundated with casework, and he has included a request to make one of his part-time employees full time, to relieve his criminal clerk of some of her workload.

"If you all could see it in your hearts to make a modest increase this year so that I could make that a full-time position, I'd love to do that," Matthews said. "I have one criminal clerk, and she works her fingers to the bone, so I'd love to have another full-time person, to give her some help."

Deweese told the commission that the law enforcement side of his office needs another deputy to balance the number of active officers he has on each shift, and $4,000 to create a captain's rank and improve the department's rank structure. Deweese also requested funding for four new cruisers for the sheriff department's fleet, two vehicles for the home confinement program and an additional tax deputy for the tax office.

"I would like one additional officer this year; we heard the prosecutor talk about how crime is rampant, and we were, unfortunately, third in the state last year with the number of meth labs," Deweese said. "We haven't really seen as much activity with those in the last 60 days, so I'm hoping the last big surge we did last year helped -- we got some big labs and removed some big players."

Putnam County Libraries requested an additional $20,000 for its 2014-15 budget, to counteract a $26,000 cut in state funding. The library budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year includes a $265,000 contribution from the County Commission. Parks and Recreation requested an additional $12,500 on top of the $400,000 it receives from the commission to strengthen its Rivers to Ridges program, which promotes tourism by creating heritage trails connecting Nitro to Point Pleasant in Mason County.

The county health department requested the same contribution of $150,000 it received from the commission last year, and interim administrator Lolita Kirk said the money, coupled with the $65,000 the PCHD has borrowed from the commission this fiscal year, will allow the agency to pay all of its outstanding debts.

Reach Lydia Nuzum at lydia.nuzum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.


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