Jail move to be reconsidered

Published 10:40 am Friday, May 20, 2016

Commissioners to revisit Franklin Furnace facility

Moving the county jail to Franklin Furnace may be back on the table.

On Tuesday Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless learned that the fund to pay for housing inmates out of county had dropped to approximately 3 percent of its original appropriation of $375,000. That is because on April 29, Morrow County Jail was paid $103,892.72 for outstanding invoices from October and November of 2015, Lawless told the Lawrence County Commission at its regular Thursday meeting.

Morrow is one of five counties that houses county inmates to keep the census at the Fifth Street jail at the state-mandated 52 prisoners.

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“I then discovered there were several other outstanding balances from 2015 owed to Morrow, Butler, Ross and Scioto counties that were paid out of this year’s budget,” Lawless read from a letter he wrote to the commission. “The total I have discovered so far adds up to $160,811.80. So when roughly $161,000 was removed from an account that was inadequate from the start, it has put me into an emergency situation.”

Lawless then expressed concerns that his other accounts that are currently solvent would be used to pay for the out of county housing, instead of increasing that funding.

“I am also asking you to revisit the issue of the Franklin Furnace facility that the state of Ohio has offered to us to use as a county jail,” Lawless said. “We still hold a lease on that building with the state but it is my understanding that state officials are looking at their options to rescind this lease.”

Over a year ago the state offered the county a 100-bed unit of the former Ohio River Valley Juvenile Correctional Facility in Franklin Furnace as a jail. Although the commissioners signed a lease with the state, they later agreed that the move was too expensive for the county.

“As long as I have sat here, you have never finished the year in the red,” commission president Les Boggs told Lawless. “You can’t let people not have safety services.”

Boggs then said the commission would review the one-half percent sales tax that funds emergency services to see if there is any excess to pay for the housing.

Then commissioner Bill Pratt read a news account from 2013 where he proposed putting on the ballot levies that would fund the EMS and 911 dispatching.

Those levies were part of a public safety plan. The 2 mill for EMS would have brought in $1.2 million a year; the 1.2 mill for 911 would have brought in approximately $900,000.

However, commissioner Freddie Hayes, who was not at Thursday’s meeting, and Boggs refused to second the motion to put it on the ballot so it died. At that time Pratt called the levy defeat a “defining moment” for the county.

He repeated that on Thursday.

“Here we are three years later and we haven’t been able to do anything,” Pratt said. “When the money runs out, it runs out.”

Boggs said he was willing to “revisit” the idea of moving to Franklin Furnace.

“There are other uses for that facility,” Lawless said. “I look for (the state) to push hard, if we don’t have a solid plan.”

For several months Boggs has said he has a plan to build a jail, but has yet to reveal it other than to say it would cost $675,000 a year for between 15 to 20 years.

Pratt said any move to Franklin Furnace should be in small steps, such as opening only one section of the ORV.

“But now I’m operating two jails,” Lawless responded.

The commission will meet with prosecuting attorney Brigham Anderson at 11 a.m. Tuesday to discuss a possible move to Franklin Furnace.