GALLIPOLIS — With concern regarding an aging jail and an overcrowded inmate population, Gallia Commissioners took their first steps to meet with legal counsel in pursuit of answers regarding the creation of a new county jail facility, Thursday, during their weekly meeting.
Commissioners met with representatives from Bricker & Eckler, a Columbus legal firm with focuses in the public sector and reported experience in a variety of corrections construction projects throughout Ohio, to discuss legal concerns and the first steps in a new jail’s construction.
“Our detention center is 70 years-old and not fulfilling its need,” said Gallia Commissioner David Smith. “Why we’ve asked you here today is that I understand you have some expertise in working with counties as far as planning, constructing and engineering such centers…We’d like to discuss the process and specifics.”
Currently, the firm is working with projects in Warren, Monroe and Fayette County regarding corrections facilities, representatives said at the meeting.
“We are constantly facing a battle in our (corrections system),” said Gallia Sheriff Matt Champlin after welcoming legal counselors. “We are daily running transports all over the state of Ohio as far away as Van Wert County just to accommodate our needs of housing prisoners. Since 2016, we’ve seen a big increase in our daily average population. In 2018, our daily average population was around 86 (inmates) per day. The vast majority of those we’re having to outsource (to corrections facilities out of county)…The criminal element has changed over the last 70 years and the type of prisoner we’re holding.”
Smith said the commissioners are considering a 100-bed structure, currently. They estimate a $10 million budget for the creation of such a building and are still in discussions as to where to locate it. The current Gallia Jail is considered a 22-bed facility in the Gallia Courthouse basement and previous information shared by county meetings has indicated it is sometimes holding double its intended capacity.
“My concern for the situation there is the safety, number one, of the staff, and I hear recently there has been a lot of noise…So I am concerned about the safety of the staff,” said Commissioner Brent Saunders in October of last year. “I’m concerned about the safety of the prisoners. If you take some young person that’s made a little mistake and he’s brought in here and taken down to our jail, I kind of fear for his safety. I fear for your safety, if you’ve ever worked the jail.”
Taking effect in April, the new sales tax rate across Gallia will be 7.25 percent. Commissioners raised the tax a quarter of a percent after a unanimous vote in January, citing emergency concerns with county funding. The raise is estimated to bring roughly $600,000 to $700,000 into the general fund.
Smith said Wednesday the commissioners would be seeking any and all sources of funding available, some of that potentially also coming from the US Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development organization.
“This is for the general fund,” said Commissioner Harold Montgomery at the time. “It’s not specifically for law enforcement. It’s for the general operation of the county, all of it. Certain areas are stressed in this (referring to the opioid epidemic and pressures it placed on local government) but we also have a lot of stress in all departments and funding needs.”
Smith had previously indicated there was a high probability the tax would be utilized for the growing needs of law enforcement and a potential detention center’s construction in December of last year. Commissioners said they have seen a growing need in a variety of departments as the opioid epidemic continues to weigh on small government finances. Commissioners have repeatedly said that over half of the county’s general fund is dedicated to funding criminal justice issues, including defense of defendants who can’t afford attorneys as well as court fiscal needs. The county general fund numbers around eight to $9 million.
Champlin has cited growing concerns with transportation costs related to moving inmates across the state, an already overcrowded inmate population and predicted future growths in drug-related crimes.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.