GALLIPOLIS — Gallipolis city officials recently made the decision to begin charging criminal offenses beneath the Ohio Revised Code as opposed to city ordinances which legally shifts the financial responsibility of inmates to the county and Gallia Sheriff’s Office.
“It’s a last ditch effort to do what we can for the citizens of the city,” said Gallipolis Police Chief Jeff Boyer. “It’s the city’s responsibility to keep the budget where it needs to be and the housing of prisoners is a huge hit in our budget. That will help alleviate some of our problems but passes it onto the county. I understand that’s (challenging) but the city has to do what it can to keep the budget and the money with the city (under control) the best it can.”
Gallipolis officials have for the last few years been concerned with budget woes, the chief among those being the police department’s funding, whose needs continue to grow based on the raising of expenses with equipment and training as well as the rise in crime due to the heroin epidemic. It is not uncommon for law enforcement needs to eat over a third of a general fund, be that the county or the city’s respective general funds.
With the shift of financial obligation placed to the county and sheriff’s office budgets, this means they are responsible for transporting an inmate from detention centers to court, as well as funding medical expenses, housing and feeding. The Gallia Jail costs roughly $70 a day to house an inmate. The jail holds 22 beds. However, inmate populations often overflow due to the drug epidemic. Because of this, inmates are frequently housed in alternate locations as part of contracts with other law enforcement agencies throughout Ohio.
“It is completely a lawful thing to do and not only does it shift the burden of incarceration to the county, any kind of fine the city loses that might have been recovered as a result of the crime (would go to the county),” said Gallipolis City Solicitor Adam Salisbury. “If you want the fine money, then you need to charge under city code and if you don’t want the fine money than you can charge under the state code. There have been many attorneys general opinions that say that if (a crime) is charged under the state code than the sheriff has to incarcerate them.”
Salisbury said he believes the city had been charging crimes under city ordinances since well before his hiring as solicitor in Feb. 2010. Gallia Sheriff Matt Champlin acknowledged the sheriff’s office is obligated to assume the responsibility of inmates with the city’s policy change.
“Because they (GPD officers) have charged under a state code section instead of a city ordinance, (an offender) is considered a state prisoner and we have responsibility for state prisoners,” said Champlin. “Basically, if you go online and you look up the codified ordinances of the City of Gallipolis, the criminal laws will mirror the Ohio Revised Code and usually cite what code section that refers back to in the bottom of the ordinances. They essentially have the same laws under ordinance that they have under state code but they are electing to charge under state code for one reason and one reason only. That is to pass the fiscal responsibility of those prisoners to the sheriff’s office and the county.”
Champlin said he understands the city is fighting a financial battle as a previous Gallipolis police lieutenant. He is also trying to serve the county’s needs and that includes the people of Gallipolis. Although, he said the county also faces its financial difficulties.
“We are both fighting financial battles as are all agencies in southeast Ohio,” said Champlin. “It’s my opinion that we’re all in this war together and we’re allies. To me, the way to win your battle is to not lob a hand grenade to your biggest ally and create a gaping chest wound that is essentially going to drain our body.”
Champlin claims he had little notice in the city’s policy change in the middle of a budget year and did not feel prepared that his office would be taking on the financial responsibility of previously considered city inmates.
“It is legal?” said Champlin. “Yes, it’s legal. I don’t think it’s right…This is early on into this (decision) and we’re not sure what kind of effect this is going to have.”
Both Salisbury and Boyer said this was not an ideal move on the part of the city but that they were doing all they could to make certain to exhaust every legal option available to the city in order to save money. Salisbury said the city has worked well with the county in the past and would continue to keep that relationship alive best as possible. Gallipolis City Manager Gene Greene said he agreed with his comrades, Salisbury and Boyer, in the decision made to charge criminal offenders under state code. City officials have said that they are foremost charged with representing the interests of the city as county officials are also expected to represent the county.
According to Gallia Sheriff’s Office, in 2016 they spent a little over $353,000 in housing inmates for food, medical and jails fees outside of the county. According to GPD information supplied from September of last year, the city jail budget can cost upwards of $170,000 to $200,000 per year per recent year trends.
Boyer said if the city’s one percent income tax levy in the fall passed he would focus on hiring new officers for GPD. As previously reported by the Tribune and checked with city records, the city’s budget numbered around $3.93 million in 2012 and $3.55 million in 2013. City officials say money available for the 2016 year was around $2.95 million with around $1.55 million collected from working individuals in income tax. The city had collected around $1.59 million in income tax in 2011.
City officials have also said the city does not have the option of using a sales tax unlike the county per the Ohio Revised Code.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.