W.Va. lawmakers review meth lab cleanup funding

CHARLESTON – West Virginia lawmakers are taking another look at the state’s reimbursements to property owners for cleaning up methamphetamine labs.

Under a 2007 law, the reimbursements are made through the Crime Victims Compensation Fund. The fund’s reserve account is being drained by meth lab cleanup expenses, the Charleston Gazette reported Monday.

Reimbursements have increased from about $38,000 in 2008 to $717,000 in 2012. The fund initially paid $5,000 for cleanup expenses. Lawmakers increased the reimbursement amount two years ago to $10,000.

“There’s been talk of eliminating that as a source of funding to clean up meth labs,” House Speaker Tim Miley told the newspaper. “We recognize it needs to be addressed as there soon will be little if any funds remaining for victims of other crimes if we continue to pay money out of it to clean up meth labs.”

Proposed solutions include reimbursing property owners through another agency, stopping such payments or reducing them, increasing court fees that generate revenue for the crime victims fund and requiring a doctor’s prescription for products containing pseudoephedrine, an ingredient that’s illegally used to manufacture meth.

“It’s a significant problem that needs a solution,” Senate President Jeff Kessler told the newspaper. “The cost of meth cleanup is significant.”

House and Senate leaders have been meeting with administrators of the Court of Claims, which oversees the Crime Victims Compensation Fund.

“The impact is eventually the reserve fund will be depleted,” Cheryle Hall, clerk of the Court of Claims, told the newspaper.

Miley said the escalating cleanup expenses reflect a meth epidemic in the state that must be deal with.

The 2007 law’s goal was to make dwellings livable again and to ensure landlords didn’t have to close properties or lose them through foreclosures.

“We’ve always talked about meth lab costs in the abstract sense,” House health committee Chairman Don Perdue told the newspaper. “We didn’t have the numbers we have now. It’s clear all of our suppositions were short of the mark.”

West Virginia is the only state that reimburses property owners through a crime victims fund for meth lab cleanup costs.

Eighteen states direct property owners to pay all cleanup costs. Other states require convicted meth manufacturers to pay for the cleanup. Six states have remediation funds that help local governments clean up the clandestine labs. In Virginia, the fund receives proceeds from fines paid by convicted meth makers.

“So long as methamphetamine labs are as prolific as they are and as costly to deal with as they are, then the state is going to have to be able to assist people who are damaged, either in the form of direct financial assistance or some other way that’s not apparent to me yet,” Perdue said. “We can’t ignore it.”