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Hayes could find funds for jail move

Whether there is money to move the county jail to Franklin Furnace depends apparently on which commissioner you talk to.

Last week commissioner Bill Pratt said the county could increase Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless’ budget by between $150,000 and $200,000 for 2015.

A county analysis, however, says that at least $1.3 million more is needed to make the move to the former Ohio River Valley Juvenile Correctional Facility in Scioto County.

At a meeting between the sheriff and the county commission on Tuesday that was not announced to the media, commission president Les Boggs and commissioner Freddie Hayes Jr. say there is money, Lawless said.

At that meeting Lawless told the commissioners, “I have to know one way or the other. Are you going to fund it? Where do I stand?”

In March the state offered Lawrence County the now closed facility for its jail, which has come under repeated fire for not meeting state standards including a mandatory square footage for an inmate in daily and sleeping areas. Right now the county jail is in noncompliance since it only has space for 27 prisoners, if the county were to follow those standards. Typical census at the jail is between 70 and 100 inmates daily.

Since the state made the offer, the sheriff has said he insists the move must be made to guarantee the protection of prisoners and corrections officers.

“I am very concerned about the funding for this jail project,” Lawless said. “I want to see this work and it must be funded properly for the safety of both inmates and staff and to comply with Ohio law.”

While the state mandates space for inmates, it no longer requires a particular officer-to-inmate ratio.

“There is no ratio anymore,” Lawless said. “(But the state says) a sheriff must have enough staff for the safe operation of the facility.”

Lawless estimates a staff of 32 would fulfill that requirement.

While Pratt has publicly said the sheriff should make the move with the staff he has now and make additions when money is available, Hayes offers two more funding sources.

“We have that Sherman Thompson Towers check,” he said. “We need to get the money certified.”

In August of last year Lawrence County and the City of Ironton each received checks for $250,000 as part of negotiations between the Ironton Metropolitan Housing Authority and the company that manages Sherman Thompson Towers.

That was when ownership of the towers was transferred to LM Associates, the facility’s management company. The housing authority owned the land the complex was on while LM had a lease agreement with the IMHA. In the lease was a clause stating that in 2032 the housing authority would then own the building as well as the property.

Earlier that year LeRoy Eslinger of LM Associates came to the commissioners to ask them to help negotiate with the housing authority to get that reversion clause removed. That effort resulted in the two $250,000 checks.

While Ironton’s administration has spent its check, the county auditor and county prosecutor have asked that the state auditor’s office determine if the county can keep the money and how it can be spent. The county is waiting on the state’s answer.

“We are also trying to get the budget commission to certify $11.2 million (for 2015 revenue) instead of $10.6 million,” Hayes said. “We have talked to them about that.”

Before the commission can appropriate any funds for county offices, the budget commission must certify that they are there.

The county must move the jail to Franklin Furnace because the state will enforce the occupancy limit, Hayes said.

“We have been promised by the state that we will be going to 27 after the first of the year,” he said. “We have to get this move. We voted to do it.”