POMEROY — The paperwork has been submitted for the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office and Correctional Facility levy and bond issue, now its time for Sheriff Keith Wood to explain why he feels this is the time to move forward with the facility, levy and bond issue.
Wood hosted a meeting on Thursday evening in the Farmers Bank Community Room for elected officials from around the county, saying they were the first group he wanted to share the information with. County, village, township and school board officials, as well as a representative from Sen. Frank Hoagland’s Office were in attendance for the presentation and question and answer session.
A 2.95 mill levy, with the intent to issue bonds, has been submitted for the November ballot in order to build the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office and Correctional Facility.
“This is a big deal, a big deal for our county,” said Wood.
Wood explained to the approximately 40 people in attendance that the current sheriff’s office was constructed in the mid-1890s to serve as the jail, sheriff’s office and sheriff’s residence.
The cost of the building and grounds was $24,000.
There were 16 jail cells on two stories, as well as a four bedroom residence for the sheriff and family. The residence was used from 1896 to 1984 as the residence for the sheriff and family.
Now, 121 years after the building opened, it is still in use.
Currently the jail space can only hold five inmates for up to 12 days. Sheriff Wood said that the aged building has foundation problems, does not pass jail inspections and is not a secure facility for the public or employees.
Anyone entering the building utilizes the same side entrance, whether public, employee or inmate, meaning that there is no separation as the prisoners are brought in through the dispatch area which is also where members of the public wait for assistance.
As for inspection issues, Wood explained that there is no established security perimeter, violent and non-violent inmates are unable to be separated and there is not enough lighting for state standards. Those factors lead for it to be approved only as a 12 day holding facility.
With the ability to only house five of their own inmates, the county is forced to house inmates at at least 10 other facilities across the state.
From 2012 to 2016, the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office paid $1,496,176.21 to outside facilities for the housing of inmates. Currently, the cost is anywhere from $48 to $70 per day for each inmate depending on the facility.
In 2016, deputies drove 21,792 miles to transport inmates to outside facilities, some as much as three hours away. Those distances traveled resulted in a cost of $8,689.72, in fuel costs and man hours to transport the inmates.
On average, in 2016, the daily inmate population was 16, with an average stay of 193 days. With the ability to only house five inmates at its own facility, 70 percent of the housing for the sheriff’s office is at an outside facility.
Major Scott Trussell explained that the population at any given time fluctuates, with a maximum of 48 at one time in 2013. That number came during the peak of the methamphetamine lab cases in the county.
Trussell stated that when it comes to housing inmates, those who are likely to be in custody for a longer period of time and have further off court dates are often taken to the further facilities as to not make as many long trips for the deputies.
After looking at the numbers, Sheriff Wood answered the question of “Why is there a need for a new jail?”
He explained five reasons: the current drug epidemic, county revenue, public safety, job creation and to prevent repeat offenders.
In 2016, there were 103 overdoses in the county which reported going to the emergency room and 12 overdose deaths. Additionally, there were 150 people on probation or community control in the county, 80 of which reportedly have violations.
Wood said that law enforcement is working to crack down on drug related crime, but there is no space to house the inmates that have been arrested.
Currently, Meigs County works with 10 facilities in order to house inmates, including Middleport, Washington County, Noble County, Stark County, Morrow County, Southeast Ohio Regional (Nelsonville), Ross County, Butler County, Highland County and the Gallia County Work Release Center.
The furthest of those facilities is a six hour, 340 mile round-trip.
At this point, Wood said all roads lead out of Meigs County to find housing, meaning all of the money goes out of the county budget to other agencies.
“Why can’t all roads lead to Meigs County,” said Wood.
The sheriff said that should the proposed 71-bed facility be built in Meigs County, there are currently six counties that have requested bed space in the facility.
The agreements for that bed space would result in revenue for the facility which would go toward paying off the bonds early.
Having its own facility would allow the county to take care of itself and house inmates for other counties, as well as support local businesses with those coming into the county to visit with the inmates, and alleviating some of the strain on the county general fund.
Former Sheriff Robert Beegle explained that in his second year of office the county was able to reopen the jail facility at the sheriff’s office to hold 10 to 12 inmates at that time. In the eight months of that year the facility was open to house inmates, it was a savings of around $60,000 to the county budget.
A facility such as the one proposed would create approximately 18 to 25 jobs with nursing staff, cooks, clerical positions, IT specialist, maintenance, dispatchers, deputies and correctional officers.
Currently, the Meigs County Jail programs are community service workers, a religious service one day per week and mental health services twice a week.
The new facility would have a designated program space, allowing for a full range of programs, including Alcoholics Anonymous, inmate workers, veterans services, Sunday religious services, GED, prevention awareness, work release, employment opportunities, mental health and addiction services.
The current proposed site for the facility is at the former Veterans Memorial Hospital, with the hospital to be torn down as part of the project. The construction cost would be $9 million, with financing through a local bank.
Racine Mayor Scott Hill asked if other sites would be considered for the facility if the sites could be obtained at a lower cost.
Wood explained that the county already owns the hospital site, leading to that being the proposed site at this point, but he and Commissioner Tim Ihle both acknowledged they would consider other sites.
One problem with taking the facility outside of Pomeroy village limits is that the sheriff’s office is required to remain in the county seat, meaning that if the correctional facility were to be located outside of Pomeroy, the sheriff’s office would need to remain at its current location.
While the initial facility, as designed, would be a 71-bed facility, there is space to add on an additional 48-bed structure in the future should the need be there.
Wood said the facility has been designed as a basic facility to meet the standards. Likewise, the administrative portion has been designed to meet the needs of the office, with room to expand if needed, but is not being designed as a plush space.
As for the decision on the size of the facility and the levy millage to request, Wood said that he and the commissioners had battled the size and numbers and it came down to what they felt was affordable that met the needs of the county.
In order to allow residents to estimate what the levy would cost on an annual basis, there is a calculator on the Meigs County Auditor’s website.
Putting in numbers for a residential property with a value of $60,000, the cost would be approximately $62 per year.
“This is not about brick and mortar or a new building,” said Wood. “It’s time we have to look ahead.”
Open house events at the current Meigs County Sheriff’s Office and Jail will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Aug. 26, Sept. 9, Oct. 7 and Nov. 4.
In addition to being at the fair to meet with county residents about the proposal, a public meeting is scheduled for Aug. 31 at the Farmers Bank Community Room. Additional public meetings will be announced in the coming weeks.
Sarah Hawley is the managing editor of The Daily Sentinel.