GALLIPOLIS — Gallia Commissioners are in discussions with the Gallia Sheriff’s Office and seeking solutions on how to combat rising corrections costs and one of the solutions being considered is potentially raising the county sales tax.
According to a resolution passed by commissioners, public hearings are tentatively slated for January 3 and 10 in the coming year to allow citizens to voice their opinion on the potential increase in sales tax. Both are set for 11 a.m., during standard commissioner meetings, which are traditionally scheduled on Thursdays in the Gallia Courthouse.
“This year we’re looking at over 50 percent of our costs going to criminal justice,” said Gallia Board of Commissioners President David Smith. “This is not a reflection of any one particular person or against any (organization). If it’s anything, we feel it’s because our (area law enforcement) is doing a good job and we have a major drug problem…We’ve had a problem coming and we’ve been working in the last year for solutions to this problem. I would surely put out there that a new jail is being considered as a possible solution to that. We’ve set the case enough and we think people are aware and one of those factors is due to the age of our facility.”
The Gallia Jail is reportedly a 22-bed facility and over 70 years old and housing more inmates due to growing prisoner populations and the opioid epidemic. Smith said it was not unusual to have “over 40 plus” inmates in the jail in recent times.
“It was built and designed for that time and does not meet the needs of our law enforcement required for today,” said Smith.
“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,” said Gallia Commissioner Brent Saunders in an October meeting with area criminal justice officials. “So I am concerned about the safety of the staff. 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.”
Resolution language gathered from county officials states that “the reason for the necessity to increase sales and use tax in Gallia county by levying an additional one-fourth of one percent is due to a significant loss in various revenue streams from the State of Ohio over the past and future years, such as MCO sales tax, Defense of Indigent Reimbursement, Undivided Local Government Fund and Public Utility Real Estate Taxes along with the additional costs to the county general fund…in funding both law enforcement and courts due in large part to the opioid crisis.”
The resolution further reads that “law enforcement and court budgets have grown from 42 percent of the total general fund budget in year 2016 to 52 percent of the total general fund budget in 2018 with 2019 general fund budget requests for law enforcement and courts at 59 percent of total general fund budget requests.”
“Gallia County is kind of unique and fortunate in some ways because we have a quarter percent permissive sales tax that’s still remaining (to be utilized), by the Ohio statute, which can be placed on by a vote of the three county commissioners,” said Smith.
County governments across Ohio can utilize up to one and a half percent in sales tax for local government funding. Around a quarter of a percent remains for Gallia to levy. Funding would go directly to the general fund, Smith said, and is intended to assist law enforcement costs and potentially be used to construct a new jail.
“It requires a declaration of emergency by the three county commissioners and must be a unanimous vote,” said Smith. “We want to hear from people. It’s a hard decision to make. I don’t take it lightly…but I would point out that everyone who shops in Gallia County will pay that including people from outside the area…We think it’s the more fair way to do it.”
County officials estimate the sales tax could raise between $600,000 to $800,000 in a year. The county lost around $600,000 in annual funding alone by no longer being able to access MCO sales tax funding due to state decisions. The Gallia County General Fund has roughly $8.6 million for the coming year to fund county departments.
“Our current sales tax in Gallia (including the Ohio state sales tax of 5.75 percent) is seven,” said Smith.
County government currently uses its access to a one and a quarter percent sales tax. The addition of a quarter percent would cap the county’s sales tax access at one and a half percent and, with the addition of Ohio’s statewide 5.75 percent sales tax, it would make for a total of 7.25 percent in sales tax to be paid across the county by visitors and residents, if the commissioners’ proposal passes.
“If the State of Ohio comes up with some money, we would take advantage of that,” said Smith. “I don’t know if they will. Rural areas across Ohio are having the same problem.”
“My mission is the safety of our citizens,” said Gallia Sheriff Matt Champlin. “The population that we’re housing is the population that needs to be housed. The dynamics of our society are different today based on several factors but primarily substance abuse and mental health issues. A lot of times those are coupled together. The people that we’re housing are the ones committing crimes against our citizens and victimizing them, property crimes, violent crimes and drug crimes. From a law enforcement perspective, we know that we’re doing what we need to do. We’re thankful for the support of the commission and their work to fund us in such a way that gives us the ability to keep our people safe and I think that’s what the citizens of Gallia expect from our offices. We’re here to take care of business in safeguarding everybody and their families. Ultimately, as we see though, that comes at a cost, a cost that’s costing the county…We’ve got to address this situation.”
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.