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Jail faces possible funding shortfall

Suffolk officials are dealing with the possibility that the city may have to shell out more than usual for the Western Tidewater Regional Jail next year.

Councilman Leroy Bennett, chairman of the Western Tidewater Regional Jail Authority, told his fellow council members last week that state funds for operating the jail could shrink in the current fiscal year and the next one.

“Nothing is concrete,” Bennett said. “This is just a projection, looking at what it could be.”

About half of the jail’s $11 million annual budget comes from the state, city budget officer Anne Seward said. Much of the rest comes from the federal government as payment for housing federal prisoners there. The remainder comes from the localities the jail serves — Suffolk, Franklin and Isle of Wight County.

The federal government, however, is reducing the number of federal prisoners it houses statewide, Seward said.

“Access to federal prisoners is getting tougher and tougher statewide,” Seward said.

Seward projected next year’s possible jail shortfall at about $819,000 one-thirteenth of the jail’s total spending plan.

In addition, state budget cuts could hit jails hard, forcing localities to come up with the difference. This year’s state revenue reductions could total $452,000, Seward said.

“We just wanted to give Council the heads up,” Seward said. “The state code requires localities to pay for the cost of the maintenance of the jails.”

Bennett said he and other jail board members were asked to inform the governing bodies of their respective localities of the potential shortfall.

“The localities might have to come up and pay some of the differences,” Bennett said, lamenting the loss of the federal income. “That was great income that helped offset the cost.”

About 70 percent of the jail’s inmates are from Suffolk, with the remainder from Franklin, Isle of Wight and federal inmates.