Forgive and forget

Published 9:08 am Tuesday, April 7, 2015

ASKEWVILLE – This is the season for forgiveness.

That’s what Bertie County is hoping for from the state of North Carolina after the county’s Board of Commissioners last month approved a Memorandum of Understanding between Bertie and Martin counties, asking for the ultimate clemency over Safekeeper services performed at the Bertie-Martin Regional Jail.  This was done in conjunction with the B-MRJ Commission.

“Oftentimes we have pre-trial detainees that we’re not able to handle in the Jail,” County Manager Scott Sauer explained at the meeting of the Commissioners here on March 16.  “Sometimes it’s a security risk, sometimes it’s the fact we have three or four defendants the District Attorney is trying to work with that they don’t want those defendants communicating with one another within the security and confines of the jail.”

The NC Division of Prisons cooperate with county jails through the Safekeeper Program to assist with the housing of prisoners when the prisoners require medical or mental health treatment or in other scenarios, such as when situations require a higher level of supervision.

Sauer said these precautions are also done for safety purposes with some defendants.

He further stated the agreement between the two counties and the state NCDP has been in existence since the facility was opened in 1981. He also said he only learned of the debt in early March because most of the bookkeeping and finance are handled by Martin County.

“There’s a $106,000 bill that’s gone unpaid since 2003,” Sauer stated. “So for 12 years our regional jail has been sitting on a bill.”

He did say that Bertie County, MartinCounty and the Jail have paid all Safekeeping charges incurred since 2003.

Sauer also revealed that Martin County’s portion of the debt is approximately $90,000, or 90 percent, which drew snickers from the Bertie faithful in attendance.

“$16,000 of it belongs to Bertie,” he said, which sort of quelled the laughter.

The County Manager said they were working through Governor McCrory’s office and the Department of Public Safety to see if there is any chance the debt can be absolved.

The Memorandum also states that $81,000 of the nearly $90,000 in outstanding charges attributed to Martin County are from a single case.

“Since the debt from the Safekeeping Program is over a dozen years old and paying the debt would create a burden for Bertie and Martin County, the attached Memorandum of Understanding formalizes a request for the State of North Carolina to forgive the debt,” the Memorandum reads.

“If it can be forgiven by the state, that’s to our advantage,” said Commission chairman Ronald D. ‘Ron’ Wesson. “But I’m not sure we can count on that.”

After further discussion, Commissioner Ernestine ‘Byrd’ Bazemore made a motion to approve the Memorandum of Understanding with Martin County’s Commissioners regarding the outstanding balance, seconded by Commissioner John Trent, who is also the Bertie representative on the Regional Jail board. The motion passed unanimously.

Martin County’s Commissioners met later that week and also approved the Memorandum, as did the Bertie-Martin Regional Jail board when they met March 18.

Following the unanimous approval, the Memorandum and request to forgive the debt was sent to Governor McCrory for consideration by the State.