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Maybe … Maybe not

Commission could reconsider jail move


At least one Lawrence County Commissioner says he is willing to do an about-face on moving the jail to Franklin Furnace, if that is in the best interest of the county.

“I’m not afraid to change my mind because we know the state isn’t doing their part,” Commissioner Bill Pratt said after the commissioners learned office equipment had been removed at the now closed Ohio River Valley Juvenile Correctional Facility in Scioto County. “If we need to change our mind, I’m for it.”

A year ago the state had offered a 100-bed unit at the facility for its jail, which has repeatedly failed to meet state inspection criteria. A month ago, the commissioners signed a $1 a year lease for 15 years to take over the facility.

“I’m not afraid to default on the lease,” Pratt said. “If the state is not doing their part, I’m not for doing it.”

Pratt made his statements at Thursday’s commission meeting following Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless detailing the removal of furniture without informing the sheriff, plus other changes the state has made that are canceling out cost savings the county was counting on.

Commission President Les Boggs responded to the news by setting up a meeting on Monday with Lawless and other unnamed officeholders.

“I’m not happy about this,” Boggs said. “I had no idea about these things. I have to calculate concerns and costs on this. We have got to get things ironed out one way or the other.”

The state has put on a new roof and is committed to building a separate sally port and fencing at the ORV, but the county will have to pay for new booking and visitors areas.

“The previous estimate to build the booking area was between $5,000-$8,000,” Lawless said reading from a five-page letter. “However, after a walk-through with state officials, and their suggestions, I will need to get that estimate updated.”

The county had gotten an estimate to build a visitors area of between $15,000 to $22,000.

“Again, the state officials were not completely opposed to our ideas,” Lawless said. “They suggested cutting holes in the concrete block wall between the two gymnasiums, placing heavy glass in place and providing intercoms for each visitors. This will require another bid.”

When Lawless discovered on Tuesday the office furniture was gone, he contacted Marie Scott at the department of rehabilitation and corrections, who told him the items were state property and had to be inventoried and tagged.

“She told me that they would dispose of items they felt were junk and it may be possible to retrieve the items, but she was not sure of the process or if we would have to purchase these items from state surplus.”

Scott then asked about security control for the facility. Lawless said he hoped to use the system that was in place. Scott said she wasn’t sure if that system was still there.

“If it has been removed, it will cost several thousands of dollars to replace it,” the sheriff said.

The state will run state-of-the-art cable to the building, but the county will have to put all the phones in and contract with a phone company.

“Since the phones have been removed, I have no idea what that will cost at this time,” he said.

On top of these unexpected costs, the sheriff’s office will also have to provide inmate clothing, mattresses, bed linens, handcuffs and shackles, expected to cost $20,648; inmate eating tables at $15,000 for all four pods; televisions for $400 a piece; inmate lockers at $400 each, plus cameras, door entry system, gun lockers and parking.

“It seems that every corner we turn we find another expense, so the costs continue to mount,” Lawless said. “The time has come for you three men to either provide me the funds/ budget to move this forward or stand up and say ‘We have done everything we can and just cannot come up with the funds at this point to take on the ORV facility’.”

After the meeting Pratt called the state’s actions “below the belt. The state wants that building utilized. They are pushing that building on us to keep from having a black eye for having a $20 to $30 million building closed. That is taxpayers’ money. They are using us to get it back open and not providing us much help.”