Treasurer offers way to finance new jailPublished 9:54am Friday, February 22, 2013
Operating costs would come from tax levy
Funding a new jail could come from the county’s Neighborhood Investment Program, says Lawrence County Treasurer Stephen Burcham.
For the past week Burcham has been floating his proposal informally to officeholders. The plan is that the county could issue a bond to build a new facility with Burcham purchasing it with county funds he is authorized to invest.
On Thursday Burcham, Commissioners Bill Pratt and Freddie Hayes, Lawrence County Common Pleas Judge Charles Cooper and Lawrence County Chief Deputy Jeff Hitchcock met to explore options to correct substandard conditions at the current jail.
A recent state inspection of the aging facility, built in the 1970s, found the jail deficient in a number of categories. This was not the first time the jail failed to meet state standards. For years it has failed inspections with officials saying it violates minimum standards for housing. Right now the daily jail census ranges from 70 to 72 inmates, almost five times the state standard that a maximum of 16 inmates should be housed there.
During the summer that census went up to 107, Hitchcock said.
On March 15, Pratt, Cooper and Sheriff Jeff Lawless are set to meet with the Ohio Jail Advisory Board in Columbus at the request of the board following that latest inspection where the state made a number of recommendations for changes.
“We have to have a bare bones plan before we meet in Columbus,” Pratt told the group.
Officials estimate to build a 100-bed dorm facility would cost $8 million.
Burcham’s plan would be for the county to issue a bond for $8 million, which he would then buy from county funds as part of the investment program he began two years ago.
The county would pay back the bond with an annual payment of $500,000. That money would come from two sources: the $320,000 the county currently spends to transport and house inmates in out-of-county facilities and a $180,000 appropriation from the casino revenue that goes into the general fund.
In 2013 the casino revenue is estimated to come in at $500,000 in quarterly payments. The first payment of $144,696 was received at the end of January.
An $8 million bond at 1 percent interest rate would be paid off in 19 and a half years, Burcham said.
“That is just an example,” he said. “You could look at grants to knock the county’s cost down.”
Pratt suggested an upgrade of the facility at a cost of $2 million.
“There is a whole realm of possibilities,” Burcham said. “My concern as a potential buyer of the bond is are we throwing money down a rat hole?”
Hitchcock suggested building a larger facility so the jail could take in out-of- county prisoners to generate revenue.
“A 100-bed would handle what we have now,” Hitchcock said. “If you would want to make it larger, we get calls from other counties to see if we can take their inmates.”
Right now Lawrence County sends its inmates to other jails when it no longer has room at its facility. Inmates have gone as far away as Morrow and Ashland counties, north of Columbus.
Recently the sheriff’s office received a bill from the Ashland County Sheriff’s Office for $49,000 to cover medical and housing costs for inmates. The county has already paid Ashland $5,170 for housing three inmates for no longer than a month and $20,863 to house five inmates for a period of one to three months.
Those at the meeting also discussed a possible location for the jail, either at its current site or in another part of the county.
Cooper said he would not be opposed to a move as long as there was a version of a holding cell near the courthouse to handle prisoners brought into the county and city courthouses for hearings and sentencings.
“I don’t have a problem if it would help with design and money,” Cooper said. “How do we do this to get the most value for the taxpayers’ dollars? It doesn’t have to be across from the courthouse.”
However, after the issue of construction funding would be met, the county would still have increased operational costs since the state requires a lower ratio of corrections officers to inmates than Lawrence County provides its inmates.
New regulations require one corrections officer for every 10 inmates. Right now there are 13 corrections officers on staff at the Lawrence jail with two or three working per shift.
Burcham said a property tax levy of 1 mill would bring in approximately $750,000 and would cost an owner of a house valued at $100,000 between $30 and $35 a year more on their property taxes.