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Virginian-Pilot: Stolle deserves an attaboy for locking up deal to jail inmates

20110106 Regional budget hearing in Norfolk, VAStolle deserves an attaboy for locking up deal to jail inmates
The Virginian-Pilot

Ken Stolle’s counterparts think he has pulled a fast one.

They’re full of angst because the Virginia Beach sheriff won a contract allowing him to lock up many of the federal inmates housed in Hampton Roads. That means the Beach will get more cash – and other local communities will lose a coveted source of revenue.

Norfolk Sheriff Bob McCabe and Chesapeake Sheriff Jim O’Sullivan, in particular, have cried foul. They told me Stolle’s move has strained the professional collegiality that local sheriffs have historically shared.

“We’ve all worked together,” McCabe said. He recalled how a former Beach sheriff let him use a computer program that saved him $100,000 in one year.

But McCabe added, “You’ve got somebody who’s used to getting what he wants by snapping his fingers,” referring to Stolle, a former state senator and former Beach police officer.

That claim smacks of sour grapes. It’s not Stolle’s job to warn other sheriffs about deals he’s submitted.

The Beach sheriff has made it clear since he took the job in 2010 that he’ll find ways to raise money for his office: “My first responsibility is to the citizens of Virginia Beach.”

No one should fault him for that.

My colleagues Kathy Adams and Mike Connors wrote recently about the brouhaha.

The U.S. government had been paying local jails around $64 per day per federal inmate. The feds want to reduce their costs whenever possible – especially during sequestration.

Stolle made his pitch using an online form called an electronic Intergovernmental Agreement; other sheriffs also had access to that form. Stolle offered to reduce the fee to $55 a day in Virginia Beach. He also agreed to pay for transporting federal prisoners to other states.

In exchange, Stolle wanted a guarantee of at least 100 federal inmates every day. Bobby Mathieson, U.S. marshal for the Eastern District of Virginia, told me that Stolle this week agreed to a minimum of 75 inmates.

With such a pact, the feds would save money. And the Beach – after expenses and sending a portion to the state – would get $400,000 to $600,000 annually.

Federal officials approved the offer, which is expected to take effect Oct. 1. Under the agreement, many of the federal inmates would be placed at the Virginia Beach Correctional Center.

Some federal inmates had already been transferred from other local jails to Virginia Beach, but that move was reversed after some sheriffs complained and local congressmen began asking questions.

Mathieson and local sheriffs will meet Sept. 13 to discuss the issue. On Wednesday, however, everything suggested Stolle’s pact with the feds would be honored.

“Regrettably, some (jails) will be winners; some will be losers,” Mathieson told me.

No one should blame Stolle for this. Instead, blame the landscape local officials face in Virginia.

Leaders of each locality struggle to finance their operations. State laws, for the most part, don’t reward communities for working together.

Nor does the state compensate local jails fairly for holding on to prisoners who belong in state facilities. The state pays local jails just $12 a day for housing those prisoners – pushing the costs onto cities and counties.

Sheriffs have long fumed about the practice. Stolle, for example, said he had roughly 200 “out-of-compliance” prisoners on Tuesday. O’Sullivan said Chesapeake had about the same number.

Why doesn’t the commonwealth take the prisoners more quickly? A spokesman with the Department of Corrections told me, by email, that the state usually stays at capacity, “and the economic downturn and budget cuts in recent years forced the closing of DOC prison facilities.”

The circumstances leave sheriffs fighting for money. They spurred Stolle to offer a deal to the feds.

My hunch? His competitors wish they had thought of it first.

Roger Chesley, 757-446-2329, roger.chesley@pilotonline.com