GALLIPOLIS — Gallipolis City Commission, Tuesday evening, discussed an upcoming arrangement to be potentially made with the Gallia Sheriff’s Office in regard to the housing of prisoners and financial duties in overseeing their care and transport and whether the municipality should press for changes in that arrangement.
Ultimately, commissioners approved a first reading of a motion to allow City Manager Gene Greene to speak for Gallipolis in its discussions with the sheriff’s office, but decided nothing else. Contracting for corrections services is common among municipalities and sheriff’s offices throughout Ohio.
“In the agreement that we got to sign, they were wanting us to be responsible for, correct me if I’m wrong, Adam (Salisbury, City Solicitor), some of the medical bills and transportation and stuff with the prisoners and that’s exactly what we got away from,” said Greene. “Whenever the city has a citation and they write it under state code, then the county has to take responsibility for that prisoner. The way this new contract reads…we can cite them but they want us to be responsible for some of the transportation and deal back to the way it used to be.”
Gallipolis officials have for the last few years been concerned with budget woes, the chief among those being the municipality’s 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 opioid epidemic. It is not uncommon for law enforcement needs to eat over a third of the town’s general fund. Gallipolis decided to start charging a majority of its crimes under state statutes in 2017. While area law enforcement and attorneys agree that Gallipolis ordinances and state laws often overlap, how a crime is charged affects what area of local government is responsible for funding the costs of inmates, according to Ohio Attorney General opinions.
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. Gallipolis officials claim that they are charged less for housing inmates in other counties.
County commissioners held a previous meeting with area municipalities and law enforcement in October due to rising concerns with corrections funding. One county commissioner estimated that a little over half of the county’s general fund would be spent on criminal justice issues for 2018. The county states its general fund is around $8.6 million. While both the county and city call their legislating officers commissioners, both are separately responsible for their respective areas of government.
Salisbury said during the Tuesday meeting that in previous meetings with other municipal legal counsel that it was a common trend across Ohio for municipal governments to charge under state statues as opposed to municipal legislation in an attempt to avoid higher corrections costs in municipal general funds.
“I hate that we’re throwing the burden on the county because it doesn’t have the wherewithal either to take care of that problem and it needs to be taken care of,” said Commissioner Steven Wallis. “But it can’t be taken care of on a village level.”
Gallipolis is technically a village as its last US Census population record did not tally above 5,000. However, it operates under its same city charter and has colloquially been called “the city” across Gallia County for years.
“It’s not in any way shape or form malicious in any way,” said Salisbury of the decision to charge under state statutes during the meeting. “That’s the state of the law, number one. And, number two, that’s how every other municipality is operating in the whole state. It’s just not done anymore to cite major crimes under city code. Now, we cite a lot of traffic offenses under city code because they’re generally not (subject to jail).”
Gallipolis officials took issue with a reported paragraph in paperwork with the county defining what a city inmate was and how his or her care would be funded when housed within the Gallia Jail. Gallipolis officials felt they should more closely adhere to definitions previously described with Ohio Attorney General opinions.
“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 Gallia Sheriff Matt Champlin in September 2017. “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…We are both fighting financial battles as are all agencies in southeast Ohio. 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.”
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.