Archived Story

Treasurer offers way to finance new jail

Published 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.

  • Poor Richard

    I suggest making a deal with the state to share or take over the Franklin Furnace facility. I disagree with spending taxpayer funds on attempting to rehabilitate drug heads since only 1 in 200,000 ‘might’ stay off drugs or alcohol. That facility is a waste of money already. When looking at the STAR program website, it reads like a country club.

    If LC took over the facility or shared it with Scioto County, it would be close to the Farm, be out of the city, have plenty of parking, and plenty of room to house the scum running around southern Ohio. A huge added benefit would be it would eliminate an easy out for judges to send criminals to the Franklin Furnace country club and rather to prison where they belong.

    (Report comment)

  • 1 Concerned Citizen

    It is not wise to even speak of spending money that we do have on projects right now. We do not know from month to month what is going on with the federal goverment. At any time the federal goverment can cut funding to the states or local goverment and then where would we be? We all know that there are going to be cut in goverment all across the board so we really need to be cautious of any unnecessary spending. And please do not even speak of raising taxes any more!!!

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  • Shooter

    Stephen Dale, Please take the time to read the last paragraph in this article. Nowhere in your response do you deny the statement which the Tribune has printed. This leads me to believe that the statement is true. The load that we the taxpayers are under is enough….!

    We do not need a jail that would be a show place to other counties and take in their prisoners. The idea that the county is in dire straights and you can magically come up with 8 million to build this new jail just boggles my mind. Then the new jail would need a operating levy to run it on the broken backs of the landowners. I’d just keep my mouth shut and miss those meetings not offering up a new levy.

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  • StephenDaleBurcham

    I would lke to clarify a couple of issues and provide some additional information that was not in the article. In regard to taxes, I was not advocating either for or against a tax levy to operate a jail. I was simply answering a question posed during the meeting regarding millage. The meeting was an informal discussion about the jail with the offices involved in the state’s most recent letter regarding our jail. It was to provide a starting point to begin a discussion regarding those problems and to begin to explore possibe solutions. During the discussion, the sheriff’s department shared with us that not only does the jail not comply with state standards for inmate housing, but that the facility suffers form significant structural issues. Among those issues are, the jail is “settling”, large amounts of concrete were poured underneath the structure last year as the ground under the jail had washed away. As a result of this, jail doors are no longer opening and closing properly, the doors have to be removed and the metal ground so that they will operate. Also, the settling has caused the walls of the structure to undergo stress creating a crack in the wall which encircles the entire structure. The discussion led to the decision to form a committee of elected officials and community leaders to research and examine a feasible plan to address the jail issues raised by the state (operations as well as possible replacement) on a proactive basis. If a new jail would be built, could increased operating costs (if any) be paid from savings from repairs and maintenance now done on an old structure and providing a revenue source by renting additional beds to other counties? These are questions that the committee would attempt to address, in addition to location. Another question to address: what if the state requires us to comply with current standards, would cost to house inmates in other counties double, triple, reach a million dollars? The idea put forth during the meeting of a new jail construction was just a possible means of building a new jail without increasing taxes. Again, the construction may be able to occur without raising taxes. This is just the beginning of a process to examine a problem and arrive at a reasonable plan of action. All committee meetings will be of course open to the public and I invite and welcome participation.

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  • Keene

    I understand that the Lawrence County’s jail is overcrowd but, one question. Could the closed state jail facility in Franklin Furnace be used as joint/regional jail with Scioto County? It is a waste to let these buildings set empty when Lawrence County needs a new jail.

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  • Shooter

    I used to like Stephen Dale. NO LEVY. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!

    (Report comment)

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