Missing furniture shoots jail move costs

Published 9:42 am Thursday, March 19, 2015

It all depends on who’s talking. Without a specified appropriation for moving the county jail to Franklin Furnace, some say the relocation will never happen. Others say the funds are there and should be used. But no matter the position, the costs for the move keep mounting.

On Tuesday Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless went down to the former Ohio River Valley Juvenile Correctional Facility in Scioto County with the county insurance agent to check out how much of an insurance premium the county will have to pay now that the commissioners have signed a 15-year lease with the state for a unit at the ORV.

Lawless wasn’t expecting to find what he did.

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“I get down there and the entire building is wiped out,” Lawless said.

Desks, chairs and other office equipment the sheriff was expecting to use were gone.

“The state said, ‘This is state property. We took it,’” an official from the state rehabilitation and corrections department told the sheriff, Lawless said.

“I spoke (to the state) personally and discussed that we could use the desks, chairs,” Lawless said. “Each time we were told we would be allowed to. Now everything is inventoried. I will be sitting on the floor with a clipboard. This is absolutely crazy.”

On top of losing office equipment, the state also told the sheriff that all the locks in the building, including those on each of the 100 cells, will have to be replaced by the county.

“We will have to pay a locksmith and change all the locks,” Lawless said.

Marie Scott, Lawless’ contact at the state department of rehabilitation and corrections, referred a Tribune email to the department’s public information officer. In response to that the state said removing the items may not be permanent.

“The items were removed from all the buildings so the items could be inventoried and tagged with state asset or property tags,” JoEllen Smith, public information officer, said. “Once all property has been inventoried, the state can transfer   some property to the county after the proper paperwork has been completed. The state is not removing the locks from the facility including those on the cells.”

Yet Lawless said he was told some furniture would be scrapped if they felt it was unusable, the sheriff said.

“They said there may be channels to get it transferred back to us but (Scott) did not know the process. I was told by her that the county would be responsible to replace, if not the entire lock, at least the tumbler for every lock on every door, including cell doors. That was what I was told. With all the financial problems that keep creeping up, I will be very surprised if we can get it up and operational.”

According to the lease with the state signed by the commissioners on Feb. 26, the county “must maintain commercial general liability insurance with a limit of not less than $1,000,000 for each occurrence. CGL insurance shall cover liability arising from premises operations, independent contractors, products/completed operations, personal and advertising injury, together with all costs of defense. The defense costs shall be outside of the policy limits.”

The county must also include insurance for the state on its policy.

“CGL insurance shall apply as primary over any other insurance afforded to Lessor,” the lease states. “Lessee waives all rights against the state for damages to the extent there is coverage afforded by Lessee’s insurance maintained pursuant to the lease.”

About a year ago, the county auditor’s office estimated moving the jail to Scioto County could take an additional $1.3 million over the sheriff’s current budget, which right now is projected to be between $75,000 to $100,000 in the red. Recent figures show moving 25 prisoners to ORV would cost $900,000

However Lawrence County Commissioner Les Boggs, a proponent of the move on a temporary basis, contends that money could be found with half of that to come from carryover earmarked for the 2015 budget. Boggs is also heading up a committee focused on building a jail in Lawrence County by 2020.

At a recent meeting of the budget commission, which must determine the amount the county can spend, two members pulled $500,000 from the carryover for the move to Franklin Furnace.

Whether those two members have the authority to earmark that money is currently under dispute with a state attorney general’s opinion expected this month.

Last week the commission approved taking a $900,000 advance on the first half tax collections to cover immediate county bills including payroll.

If that advance had not been taken, the county’s carryover would be depleted, plus there would be an additional deficit of $133,663, as of Wednesday, according to Chris Kline, chief deputy auditor.

Boggs, however, says the money is there and taking the advance is a common practice, until property tax revenues come in in full.

“Every year since I have been there, the carryover has gone up,” he said. “We had a $ 1.8 million carryover, even if we took $500,000 that still leaves $1.3 million.

“Nobody knows how much it will cost to operate the ORV. First of all, we are already up to April and I can’t see us getting down there before June. We’re already half way through the year. The $500,000 would easily get us through 2015. Sales tax is coming in better and has steadily increased since 2008. That isn’t calculated in the carryover. We know we can fund them easily for 2015.”