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Sequestration could affect WV National Guard, public safety

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If sequestration goes into effect March 1, it could affect the budgets of the West Virginia National Guard and public safety.

Officials representing all parts of the Department of Military and Public Safety spoke Feb. 26 to the House Finance Committee, airing their concerns about sequestration and telling committee members some of the ways their respective divisions would use funding from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's fiscal year 2014 budget.

West Virginia National Guard

Brigadier Gen. David Buckalew, director of joint staff with the West Virginia National Guard, told the committee that although the West Virginia National Guard isn't struggling as much as national guards in other states, sequestration could change that.

"The term that's in the news almost constantly now — sequestration — we do anticipate if it becomes a reality on March 1, it will have a significant impact on the National Guard," Buckalew said. "What we know, the Department of Defense has announced that if sequestration goes into effect … we will be required to layoff 56 temporary technicians immediately. And between April and September, we'll be required to furlough more than 900 of our technician employees. This furlough will amount to one day non-duty status without pay for 22 pay periods. One day off per week for 22 weeks is a total of a 20 percent reduction in those individuals' pay, so very significant."

Buckalew has estimated the culmination of furloughs and effect on military construction, funds could potentially decrease by $30 million.

But there's a sliver lining. Buckalew said he anticipates some military construction projects across the country may remain incomplete because of sequestration. That's where the West Virginia National Guard can step up and pick up some of that slack and potentially offset some of that funding loss.

Despite looming sequestration cuts and a 7.5 percent widespread budget cut mandated by Tomblin, Buckalew told the committee the National Guard could operate solely on the funding provided by Tomblin's budget.

"We are prepared to effectively execute the mission of our department on the $16.7 million outlined in the governor's budget."

Division of Corrections

The Division of Corrections also was required to cut 7.5 percent of its budget, but it is still making its $180.2 million budget work.

Jim Rubenstein, commissioner of the West Virginia Division of Corrections, told the committee it has some priorities for the coming fiscal year.

"Certainly the division has some priorities for fiscal year 2014, and that would include addressing the upswing of the number of inmates in our care," Rubenstein said. "We have plans to add 350 additional beds to our existing facilities, also completing the renovations of our new Charleston correctional center. When completed, that will house work release as well as residential substance abuse treatment for females and that facility will house approximately 130 inmates."

In Parkersburg, phase two of a new correctional facility is underway.

"It opened in August 2012," Rubenstein said. "The division was able to purchase a vacant Holiday Inn through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2010. Phase one included the creation of 100 work release beds and 30 residential substance abuse treatment (beds). We also were able to relocate our Parkersburg parole office."

The Parkersburg facility maintains a population of 126 inmates and 43 staff.

The division is also looking at transitional housing for inmates, as well as tackling capital projects needed to maintain aging facilities.

Currently, the number of inmates sentenced to the Division of Corrections is 7,040. Of those, 1,721 are housed in regional jails because there is no room for them in facilities maintained by the Division of Corrections. The division employs 2,063 staff at a cost of $100 million in salary and benefits.

The 55 parole officers in the Parole Services Division are responsible for the supervision of more than 2,500 parolees. But Rubenstein said the number of parolees is expected to grow as a result of Council of State Government recommendations, which recommended more community-based services.

"It certainly cost us a lot less to have an offender out under parole supervision in community service — approximately $1,600," Rubenstein said. "The cost to have an offender in any of our other facilities is approximately $24,500."

In addition to the $180.2 million budget, Tomblin recommended supplemental appropriations for the Division of Corrections — $6 million for the completion of the Charleston facility, $4.9 million to upgrade radio equipment to meet federal standards and $2 million for operating expenses.

Homeland Security

The Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management has had a busy year. According to Director Jimmy Gianato, his division has operated under four federal declarations and two emergency declarations as a result of tornadoes, the derecho and Superstorm Sandy.

"In addition to that, we're working as one of the lead agencies as appointed by the governor to coordinate response to the national Boy Scout jamboree this summer, which could have an impact if sequestration takes effect on the amount of federal support we get, so that's something we always have to be diligent on," Gianato said.

The Division of Homeland Security has also taken on additional responsibilities, monitoring the safe schools help line.

Gianato said the division runs on a budget of $3.19 million. As with other agencies and departments, the Division of Homeland Security also was subject to the 7.5 percent budget cuts.