WSAZ Investigates | Lawmakers Question WVSP Spending

Lawmakers question if money collected from a $3-fee charged on motor vehicle inspections is being spent according to state law by the West Virginia State Police
Published: Apr. 17, 2023 at 6:49 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - The West Virginia Legislature’s top finance lawmakers told WSAZ NewsChannel 3 they have questions about how West Virginia State Police spends the money you pay to get your vehicle’s annual inspection sticker.

The Senate’s finance chairman, Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, spoke with WSAZ late last week.

“Given the investigations and everything that’s going on with the State Police, and some of the sources that several of the legislators have been coming to us with, we’re wondering if there’s something else that they’ve been using that money for, and if so, what has it been,” he said Friday.

Lawmakers got that chance Monday before the Joint Standing Committee on Finance.

There’s a $3 fee that you pay with every vehicle inspection in West Virginia. State law says revenues from that fee can only be used for specific purposes, enforcement of the inspection law and “for the purchase of vehicles, equipment for vehicles, and maintenance of vehicles.”

But lawmakers want to know if the money in the State Police Motor Vehicle Inspection Fund is being spent according to state law.

Their questions follow an anonymous letter sent to state officials in February that brought allegations of wrongdoing against members of the State Police.

The letter claims State Police has utilized money from that MVI fund to “purchase large expense items NOT for vehicles”. It mentions Tasers, body cams and motorcycles.

Tarr, together with House Finance Chairman Vernon Criss, both asked the new head of State Police, Col. Jack Chambers, what happened?

“Have you found anything to that spot that you’re saying, ‘This is an obvious abuse of these funds?’,” Tarr asked Monday.

“It probably used some of this money that is allowed to use, and it wasn’t for vehicles, but for something else because it was short,” Chambers replied. “Do I think you have a bunch of money that people were going on vacations and things like that? Absolutely not. I don’t believe that for a second.”

A report given to lawmakers before the hearing shows some MVI funds went to personal services, employee benefits and buildings among other items.

Criss, R-Wood, acknowledged some questions remain unanswered, but said Monday is the start of a process.

“I think this went a long way to have him come and reassure the members of the Legislature that were in this committee that things are working in the right direction, and that we have his confidence that things are going to get better, and when they find the problems, they can expose the problems, and they’re going to fix the problems,” Criss said of Chambers.

The interim superintendent ended his remarks on that very note.

“If we were outside of those guidelines, then shame on us,” Chambers told lawmakers. “But I can promise you that if I’m there one year, two years or six years or 12 years, I’m not going to go outside of the guidelines. I’ll just do without. Simple as that.”

The Motor Vehicle Inspection Fund typically receives about $3 million to $4 million each year.

Chambers also made news on two other fronts. First, taking a pass on a $2.5 million appropriation that was slated for his agency. He told lawmakers, with the ongoing investigation, the State Police can make do for now.

Secondly, Chambers he advised committee members that new protocols are in place to monitor every employee’s time sheet.