SYRACUSE — Keeping deputies, money and jobs in the county were just a portion of the message from Meigs County Sheriff Keith Wood on Tuesday evening as he discussed the proposed Meigs County Correctional Facility.
Hosting “Information and Ice Cream” at the Syracuse Community Center, the second-term sheriff talked about the “need for the facility”, breaking down the statistics, finances and other information.
“The future is now” said the sheriff. He explained that he and others have spent the past five years researching and putting together the proposal which is now before the voters.
“It takes everybody,” said Wood, noting that everyone must work together to make Meigs County a “better and safer” place for all residents.
A 2.95 mill levy and bond issue will appear on the May 8 ballot for consideration by the voters of Meigs County. The issue, if approved, would provide funding for the construction and operation of the proposed Meigs County Correctional Facility. This is the second time voters have been asked to consider the levy, with the first attempt failing by just a few hundred votes.
Wood told the dozens in attendance that if there were any other way the needed facility could be achieved he would take that route, but with no other way to meet the need, the issue is being given to the voters for a second time.
The 71-bed facility would house inmates for Meigs County, as well as having space to rent bed-space to neighboring counties which find themselves in the same situation as Meigs County. The renting of the bed space would help to pay for the facility.
Architect Rick Exline explained that a study was done to determine the needs of the county today and as far as 30 years into the future. Exline said that 71 beds is what was recommended looking at that study.
Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart attended the meeting, explaining that what is proposed for Meigs County is something that was done in Shelby County a few years ago.
Lenhart stated that his county had been spending $350,000 to $400,000 to transport inmates before the new facility. The first time it was proposed to the voters, the Shelby County levy failed by 124 votes. Since then, the levy has been approved and the 188-bed facility constructed. The facility, 3.5 hours from Meigs County, currently houses inmates for Gallia, Lawrence and other counties which are closer to Meigs than Shelby.
Wood detailed several key points for consideration as to why the facility is a need for the county now and in the future.
With the opioid crisis hitting Meigs County hard, the facility would allow for treatment opportunities for inmates, as well as for members of the community who may need help for drug addiction.
Wood cited numbers from the past few years regarding overdoses and overdose related deaths.
In 2016, 103 overdoses were reported as going to the emergency room in Meigs County. There were 12 overdose related deaths. In 2018, so far, Wood stated that 25 percent of the deaths in the county have been overdose related.
The drug epidemic is making an impact on the court system and housing of inmates due to repeated probation and community control violations. In 2016, there were 150 people on community control or probation in Meigs County, 80 of which had violations.
Currently the jail is not able to offer treatment or many other programs which could be offered at a new facility.
Current programs include: community service workers, Wednesday religious services and mental health services.
Future programs in the proposed facility include: Inmate work program, veterans incarcerated program, GED, Sunday religious services, prevention awareness, work release, mental health, addiction services, integrated services and others. Wood explained that he has met with Robin Harris executive director of Gallia-Jackson-Meigs Board of Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS), Hopewell Health Centers and others about the possibility of providing services in the facility.
The elimination of outside housing needs would be a major advantage Wood sited with a new facility.
A map of Ohio was available which showed the locations where Meigs County inmates are held and the amount of time it takes to get to each of the locations.
Deputies in Meigs County work 12-hour shifts, with two deputies and one sergeant on shift at a time. With drives of up to six to eight hours round trip to jail facilities, the county may be left with only one or two deputies on shift in the county at a time, with there being the occasion where all three on shift may be transporting prisoners to outside facilities.
The shortage of coverage in the county during these transports leads to concerns should an emergency arise in the county at that time.
The travel time is not the only concern with taking inmates to outside locations — there is also the expense.
Housing at the facilities utilized by the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office runs at a cost of $48 to $90 per day. There are also fuel costs and the wear on the vehicles.
In total, the county has already spent more than $97,000 in 2018 for transportation and housing. Nearly $300,000 was spent in 2016 and 2017, each, with $350,000 spent in 2015.
The bottom line with this or any levy is what will it cost. Is it something that a family or individual can afford, and is the outcome worth the expense.
Using the tax estimator available at meigsauditor.org, the Sentinel ran the numbers on what a 2.95 mill levy would cost county tax payers.
- A property owner with property valued at $60,000 would see a tax increase of $5.17 per month. (A total of $62 for the year).
- A property owner with property valued at $80,000 would see a tax increase of $6.92 per month. (A total of $83 for the year).
- A property owner with a property valued at $100,000 would see a tax increase of $8.58 per month. (A total of $103 per year).
- A property owner with a property valued at $200,000 would see a tax increase of $17.25 per month. (A total of $207 per year).
- A property owner with a property valued at $300,000 would see a tax increase of $25.83 per month. (A total of $310 per year).
The millage of the levy is split into two parts for the funding of the facility — 1.3 mill for construction and 1.65 mill for operation. Wood explained that once the loan for the facility is paid off the 1.3 mill could be removed from the tax collection. Utilizing the payments from outside housing to make extra payments, the loan could be paid off much earlier than the 30 year loan term.
Lenhart noted that the loan for the facility in his county was paid off in a little over seven years.
The 1.65 mills for operation could potentially be removed down the line as well once the facility is self-sustaining.
Wood noted that residents in the county had a 1-mill reduction in their property tax rates last year with the expiration of the Tuberculosis Levy which was not placed on the ballot for renewal.
The facility is proposed to be located at the site of the former Veterans Memorial Hospital on Mulberry Heights in Pomeroy. Of the location, Wood stated that it is on county owned property within the county seat (the sheriff’s office itself must be in the county seat) and is close to the courthouse for easy transportation. The building would be professional and secure, eliminating many of the problems with the current 120-year-old facility.
An investment in the facility would create jobs not only in the construction process, but long term as part of the operation of the facility.
Approximately 20-25 corrections officers, medical and other staff would need to be hired to operate the facility on a day-to-day basis.
Wood encouraged those with questions or concerns to reach out to him at the sheriff’s office.
Sarah Hawley is the managing editor of The Daily Sentinel.
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