The Fayette County Commissioners are rallying support from the community for a new jail levy that will be present on the May 7 election ballot.
There are two parts to the levy. The first part is to construct a new and updated adult detention facility. The second part is to provide financial support for the operational expenses of the adult detention facility.
The current Fayette County Jail has a capacity for 24 people, but often has to house much higher numbers of inmates. In an earlier Record-Herald article, Sheriff Vernon Stanforth was quoted saying, “It’s not unusual to have 60 to 70 people in here at any given time.”
In the same Record-Herald article, it was brought to attention that “according to the Shremshock needs assessment, due to the struggling economy many agencies within Ohio are reducing budgets. State legislation recently proclaimed that for Ohio to avoid building another new prison (which is necessary to mitigate the overcrowded prison system) the current prison population must be reduced. The state believes this can be done by refusing to accept offenders convicted of fourth and fifth degree felonies, therefore leaving it up to the local governments to burden the cost.”
If left to local governments, Fayette County will need to house more inmates on top of their regular number. Commissioner Tony Anderson said, “There’s between 45 and 50 of those folks out there right now that the state can send back to us.”
Effects of overcrowding in the prison system are vast. It could include early release of inmates, poor rehabilitation opportunities, sending inmates to other counties, unsafe conditions and greater numbers of re-offenders, among many other effects.
Commissioner Dan Dean explained there is currently no way to run proper programs for inmates to better their mental health or ability to live outside the system. Space for counseling services is severely limited to a small, old shower. So inmates enter the jail, just sit there and go back to the exact same situation and mental state they were in prior to being locked up, according to Dean. He said, “A lot of them re-offend.”
With the proposed jail, there will be room for inmates to receive treatment who wish to better themselves. There will be the opportunity to learn life skills that can better their outlook and involvement within the community.
Anderson said, “We can’t help those people if all they do is walk through the doors and walk back out.”
“It will generate $1.646 million,” Dean said. That $1.646 million will be generated on an annual basis with .85 millage going toward operational costs and .105 millage going toward loan repayment.
Dean explained, “0.85 is around $700,000 and 0.105 is around $900,000.”
In other words, the levy will cover approximately $700,000 of operational costs annually, which includes the employees and contracted services. It will also cover repayment of the loan at approximately $900,000 annually.
The tax would be paid by property owners based off their properties’ appraised value on the auditor’s website. Dean said, “For $100,000 dollars of appraised value by the auditor’s website, whether it be your home or your business, you would pay $66.50 per year (approximately $5.54 per month).” A $200,000 appraised property would be 66.50 doubled: $133 per year (approximately $11.08 per month).
The current Fayette County Jail was built in 1885. Dean said, “We’re not able to meet all of the minimum standards at the state level. There’s actually more than 30 of them that we can’t meet that we’ve kind of been grandfathered into.”
If the state chooses to close the jail, all of the inmates will need to be relocated to other jails. Fayette County has to pay for inmates who are relocated regardless of the reason: whether it be due to over-crowding or having the Fayette County Jail shut down. According to Dean, it costs approximately $65 per day to house one inmate at a facility outside Fayette County. One inmate with a cost of $65 per day would cost the county $23,725 in one year.
If the jail were to be shut down, at an average of 60 inmates and $65 per day per inmate, it would cost the county $3,900 per day. In one year it would cost $1,423,500. Those numbers don’t include the fuel cost, transport vehicle cost or labor cost for the deputies having to transport the inmates. These transports would also take deputies away from Fayette County, sometimes several hours away to another county’s facility, according to the commissioners. This cost could fluctuate from several factors, including the number of inmates in the system.
When considering fluctuations in costs of relocating inmates if the jail closes, Dean said, “You get somewhere between $1.8 million and $2.4 million [per year], which is more than the cost of the levy. And that’s what we are afraid is going to happen.” He explained further, “As we would spend more of the county’s money to do that, that would be less of the county’s money to spend here for other services.”
The commissioners said they have tried to keep costs down as much as possible and continue to negotiate cheaper costs. If the levy doesn’t pass this year, the county will lose the low interest rate they have achieved for the proposed plan.
Anderson said, “A lot of our work is done in preparation and because of the preparation, we’re getting very comfortable with the numbers. It’s not estimates this or over-runs that. We’ve got a small amount of a contingency fund built into the estimate on the jail now.”
Dean said, “We firmly believe that this is the best method for the county, the best foot forward that will put the county in good shape for the next 30 to 50 years.”
Reach Jennifer Woods at 740-313-0355 or on Twitter @kenanipel.