• 55°

ORVC fading as possible new jail

What sounded like an answer to a critical situation with the Lawrence County Jail may be evaporating before county officials’ eyes unless the state can sweeten the gift even more.

In the past years the jail has failed state inspections because recent tightening of standards have put the facility in non-compliance. Major violations include not providing the required square footage for each inmate and recreational areas. Daily census at the jail can range from 70 to 100. To be in compliance, however, the jail should only house 16 inmates. Recently the state granted the county a variance to increase that number to 27.

Building a new structure has appeared out of reach because of budget restrictions. So when the state suggested it could offer a section of the now closed Ohio River Valley Correctional Facility in Franklin Furnace at no cost, county officials thought moving the jail to Scioto County could work. Now they’re not sure.

“We have a preliminary cost analysis back and it’s not good,” County Commissioner Bill Pratt said following the Tuesday meeting of the ad hoc action team committee charged with determining if the move would be feasible.

Right now the jail has a staff of 16 — 14 corrections officers and two cooks. A larger facility would require more officers on all three shifts.

“If we move to the ORVC, the staffing needs would be 39,” Pratt said. “Part of that is because we would have to have additional people for transportation back and forth and staff available for recreation.”

Last year salaries and benefits for those 16 cost the county $1,457,750. Adding on 23 more would increase that cost to $3,034,759 or just over $1.5 million more than current charges.

“I asked the state if they would be willing to provide $5 million over a three-year period for transitional money,” Pratt said. “Otherwise we have been given a gift we can’t afford to keep. It’s like being given a 10,000-square-foot house and expected to pay the property tax and heat and cooling and not have the money. We don’t have the resources.”

Other scenarios don’t add up to any better figures, however.

Building a new jail valued at $11 million would cost the county an additional $1,684,000 including debt service and staffing increases. Debt for the structure could cost $784,000 a year for a 30-year note.

A new jail with no debt would still mean $956,000 for staff increases.

“If we farmed out all additional prisoners over the 27 prisoners (allowed by the variance), that would cost $1,104,000 additional,” Pratt said. “Every scenario is at least a million more in cost other than the status quo and we don’t have that.”

Next week Sheriff Jeff Lawless plans to meet with officials with the National Institute of Corrections to get firmer figures on what staffing needs would be at the Franklin Furnace center. He also wants to keep the current jail open in order to have deputies maintain a significant presence in the county and a provide a drop off point for those arrested.

Those figures the county will present to state officials on April 30, two weeks shy of the May 15 deadline the state set to hear the county’s decision on the ORVC.

“We will show them what our true shortfall is and whether they will have any additional funding to help us operate that facility,” Pratt said. “If not, we don’t have any option but to say ‘No.’”

Lawless also is hoping the state will provide some financial help.

“I want to staff this thing properly,” he said. “I don’t want to cut corners. I want everybody to be safe, staff and inmates. We have to do something. We can’t continue down this path. The answer is more money and where does the money come from. I would hope the state, knowing what shape we are in, that they would divert some capital improvement money to help staff the place and run the place.”