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Jail authority progress made

Prince Edward County took steps toward creating the Piedmont Regional Jail Authority (PRJA).

During its meeting Tuesday, the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors approved a service agreement which would create the jail authority, effectively replacing the current jail board. Amelia, Buckingham, Cumberland, Prince Edward, Lunenburg and Nottoway counties currently make up the jail board and, if approved, will also serve on the PRJA.

Wade Bartlett

Wade Bartlett

The discussion of an authority goes back several months and has been in serious consideration by all the counties since an initial information meeting in July at Fort Pickett.

During Tuesday’s meeting, County Administrator Wade Bartlett tasked the board with approving both the service agreement and the appointment of initial members.

Bartlett said Nottoway, Lunenburg and Cumberland counties have already approved the authority and it is up to the remaining counties to do so by January.

Prince Edward unanimously approved the agreement and appointed its initial representatives: Sheriff Wesley Reed and current jail board chairman James W. Garnett Jr.

Supervisors appointed Bartlett as the alternate member. All three men currently serve on the jail board.

Following the adoption of the service agreement by the remaining counties, expected during December, the counties will then all agree on an overall resolution, which will make the authority a reality.

“The greatest advantage lies in the reduction of liability for the counties and for jail board members,” Bartlett said.

An authority, unlike a jail board, is a “political subdivision for the commonwealth,” and as such is able to shield the counties and board members from being held directly responsible for actions involving the jail. An example of this would be if the jail were to expend funds on a major capital project, the ensuing debt would not be reflected on any of the counties’ budget sheets, Bartlett said.

This shift of obligation and responsibility would give the authority the option to charge higher housing rates for federal prisoners, effectively transferring repayment responsibility from the counties to the federal government, he said.

Bartlett did note, however, the largest disadvantage is the authority will have extra steps to go through to borrow money.