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State, county start negotiations on possible lease

The state has given the county more time to decide on whether it will move the jail to Franklin Furnace as the state weighs the county’s lease requests.

Earlier this year the state department of corrections offered to the county the now closed Ohio River Valley Juvenile Correctional Facility in Scioto County for its new jail. The current facility has come under fire after failing state inspections.

The county would use a 100-bed unit of the ORVC while STAR Community Justice Center would expand its rehabilitation operation into the remainder of the juvenile center.

On Monday Lawrence County Commissioner Bill Pratt, Sheriff Jeff Lawless, Chief Deputy Jeff Hitchcock and county prosecutor Brigham Anderson met with state correctional officials over a potential lease agreement between the state and county.

“We would like to have a triple net lease that says they still own the facility, they maintain the facility and also cover the utilities,” Pratt said. “That way there would be no cost to the county for the facility.”

Originally the state told the county it needed a decision by May 15. Now Pratt believes the county has at least two more weeks to consider the move.

“We gave them our ideas about a lease agreement and they were going to meet and discuss what they can do,” Pratt said. “Then Brigham would have to review it.” The county also asked the state for a variance on the number of corrections officers that would be needed at the new facility. The state had said the county would have to have between 43 to 48 officers while Lawless had estimated that 39 officers would be sufficient.

“If we can get that down to 30 or 32, that will save us a considerable amount of money,” Pratt said.

Right now the county is estimating $32,000 for the salary of each officer and $22,000 for family insurance plan.

Initially, the county estimated moving to the ORVC would cost an additional $1.5 million for a variety of expenses including salaries, transportation, food and medication.

“We have been able to put a pencil to that number,” Pratt said. “That will be about cut in half.”

Besides reducing the number of personnel, the county wants STAR to provide food service. That would eliminate $200,000 from the cost estimate.

Pratt was expected to recommend the move to Franklin Furnace at Thursday’s county commission meeting. However, he was in Portsmouth meeting with a representative from the governor’s office at the governor’s request.

“They wanted to impress on me how much they wanted this to happen,” Pratt said.

Anderson called the Monday meeting positive.

“They want to see a solution to the problem,” he said. “They understand the problems we face down there. I am quite certain it is going to happen. It is working out the details so Lawrence County is best protected as possible. The current facility is obsolete and no longer an option.”

Lawless also said the meeting was productive, though he understands there are still budget concerns.

“They listened to our concerns,” Lawless said. “We closed a small gap (on the funding). There is still money to worry about. But I don’t think we have any choice but to take this and make it work.”