State takes back $16.8M jail fund

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 11, 2023

Money will be reallocated to other counties

There was some jubilation in October 2021, when it was announced that the State of Ohio had approved $16.8 million to fund a new jail in Lawrence County.

But, last week, the Lawrence County commissioners learned the state was taking the money back.

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Commissioner DeAnna Holliday said the move was expected, but was still “deflating when you get the call the funding is being pulled back. We desperately need the state’s participation with this build. They know Lawrence County is in dire need of a jail.”

She said the county was approaching the deadline for that capital round of funding and the state wanted to reallocate the $16.8 million, since Lawrence County was not been able to use the funds at the current time.

The Lawrence County Jail was built in 1974 and has had overcrowding issues for years but the county never had sufficient funds to build a new facility until the passage of Senate Bill 310 in 2020, meant there were finally funds to do something.

The total cost of the jail project was estimated to be $32 million and the county commissioners put a half percent tax on the May 2022 ballot to help fund the county’s part of the project.

But voters resoundingly rejected the tax, with 65 percent of the voters voting no.

In March 2022, the commissioners announced that there was no movement on building a jail and that there was a possibility the state would take the money back.

Holliday said there is hope that the county could again get state funding to help build a jail.

“We have another application in and we believe it will also score very favorably and we are hoping we get at least the amount of money, if not a little more, in the second round,” Holliday said. “I don’t want to say it is completely lost. That round is, but we will continue to apply and I believe we will have another successful application.”

One of the things that Holliday explained to the state was the fact that the levy failed and without multiple grants, the county won’t be able to act upon a new build.

“We are hoping ,through the governor’s budget and potentially more capital funding, we can possibly be successful,” Holliday said. “That is our hope, we don’t have any promises of that. But the path we are going to take is to apply for as many grants as possible to get us across the finish line.”

Holliday said they are trying to get a new jail built as soon as possible because construction costs are always going up.

“The longer we take to start building the jail, that price tag goes up,” she said. “All the inflation that is going on will play a part in what the final cost is.”

As far as a site for the new jail, Holliday said the commissioners have taken an option on a piece of property, but wouldn’t say where the location was.

“We have secured a purchase option on a piece of property. It is not a property that we are at liberty to release at this time,” she said. “It will only be pursued once we have funding in place. We don’t want to prematurely purchase property that we won’t have a need for. But it is very suitable for the build.”