Crime is down; jail is closed; budget unchanged

As of today, Rappahannock’s 181-year-old local jail, one of the oldest still operating in Virginia, is expected to be empty. As of July 1, the Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Office will likely be just four officers shy of its current staff.

The 20 remaining inmates of Rappahannock County Jail (a half dozen having been transferred earlier this month to state prisons) were expected to have been transported by today to their new home — and the new home for some 300 other prisoners from at least three counties, that being the just-opened $72 million, 175,000-square-foot Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail in Front Royal.

The state Compensation Board, which determines what positions the state will help fund for local jurisdictions, notified Sheriff Connie C. Smith last week that five of the nine positions formerly classified as correctional officers could remain with the department as communications officers — for a net loss, at the opening of the regional jail, of four positions.

Meanwhile, overall crime in Rappahannock — according the Virginia State Police’s annual compilation of crime statistics statewide — went down about 13 percent in 2013, compared to the year before. The overall incident rate per 100,000 population, the VSP’s unit of measurement, went from 1,381 in 2012 to 1,071 in 2013. (Crime incident rates in surrounding counties can be found here.)

The only category of criminal arrests that went up significantly in Rappahannock in 2013, according to the VSP report, were drunk-driving and drunkenness arrests, which increased from 27 and 9, respectively, to 42 and 11. Drug and narcotics arrests decreased slightly from 43 to 39.

The state’s rate of violent crime was down 1.6 percent in 2013 from the year before, while property crimes were down 3.9 percent.

On Monday (June 23), the county supervisors, meeting at an end-of-year budget work session, declined after several long discussions to amend any of the appropriations included in the $21.99 million fiscal-year 2015 county budget, which the board adopted earlier this month (and which carries a 4-cent increase in the local property tax rate).

Before a quiet crowd of four — Sheriff Smith and Deputy Sheriff John D. Arstino, and frequent fiscal watchdogs Walt Longyear and Terry Dixon — the supervisors discussed cutting the budget’s 2-percent county staff salary increase, the largest single cut the board considered (but totalling only about $20,000 since most of the county’s staff are paid primarily by the state); asking all its constitutional officers to cut 5 percent from their departmental budgets; removing an appropriation for one of two new sheriff’s department vehicles included in the 2015 budget; and other measures, all at some length.

“This county really runs a tight ship, we’re not extravagant,” said Piedmont district supervisor Mike Biniek at one point, agreeing that Jackson district supervisor Ron Frazier’s suggestion — that the board start scheduling budget-related work sessions this fall and winter — was a sound idea, “and then we can see what we can do.”

“We really haven’t gone line item by line item,” said chair Roger Welch.

County Administrator John McCarthy pointed out that by fall, the future costs of the new regional jail would also have become clearer.

Biniek’s motion to consider making cuts at this point was not seconded. Frazier asked the board to consider a second monthly meeting starting in September to talk about expenses.

Smith said this week that the Comp Board’s allowance for five dispatchers, all of whom formerly divided their time between the jail and the communications center, likely meant there was no longer a need for the “complete restructuring” of her office, a possibility she mentioned when an earlier draft of the county budget would’ve meant the loss of nine officers.

Roger Piantadosi
About Roger Piantadosi 544 Articles
Former Rappahannock News editor Roger Piantadosi is a writer and works on web and video projects for Rappahannock Media and his own Synergist Media company. Before joining the News in 2009, he was a staff writer, editor and web developer at The Washington Post for almost 30 years.