GALLIPOLIS — Gallia officials gathered in the second floor meeting room of the Gallia Courthouse Thursday morning in the first of a pair of meetings to discuss the potential of raising the Gallia sales tax in an effort to keep up with rising criminal justice costs along with other general fund money concerns.
The second such meeting is scheduled to be held next Thursday at 11 a.m. in the same room.
Gallia Commissioner David Smith started the meeting and introduced Gallia Sheriff Matt Champlin who presented statistics covering the cost of corrections and inmate population of Gallia County.
“We continue to see a growth in our inmate population which is ultimately causing a major strain and deficit on the general fund and sheriff’s office budget,” said Champlin of the office’s continuing mission to stay on top of increasing drug and property crimes with the opioid epidemic.
The sheriff presented a three-year summary, beginning with information recorded in 2016. The average daily inmate population measured a little over 56 inmates in Gallia custody at the time. Of that 56, 72 percent were housed in the Gallia Jail, 24 percent of those were housed in the Gallia Work Release Center and four percent were out-of-county, usually housed with another sheriff’s office. When looking at 2017, the sheriff said the daily inmate population grew to a little over 67 inmates (average daily). Of those 67 inmates, 73 percent were housed at the jail, 21 percent of those were housed in the work release center and six percent were housed out-of-county. The sheriff had previously mentioned a large expansion of inmates from 2016 to 2018 in an October meeting. In 2018, average daily population was a little over 82 inmates. Of those, 70 percent were housed in the jail, 19 percent were housed at the work release center. Champlin said there was an increase, almost tripled from 2016 to 2018, with 11 percent of inmates housed out-of-county.
In 2016, the county housed 1,655 individuals through its jail, 560 through the work release center and 83 for out-of-county. In 2017, 1,884 were housed in the jail, 558 in the work release center and 149 out-of-county. In 2018, with year-to-date totals, 1,639 were housed in the jail, 440 in the work release center and 273 in out-of-county facilities.
A finite number of inmates can be held in Gallia facilities, and many of them have been housed in other counties, some as far as Van Wert County on the Indiana and Ohio border. It can take over three and a half hours to travel to Van Wert County from Gallipolis, one way. The Gallia Jail is a 22-bed facility. Champlin’s statistics were recorded up through August of 2018. Previously stated jail cost figures in an October story discussing rising inmate populations were considered year-to-date totals.
“I do have some figures to introduce,” said Smith. “These are updated as of today but this does not quite include everything through the year 2018. There are still a few things to be entered, but it’s pretty close.”
Smith started with appropriation and expenditure increases first tallied in 2015. At the end of 2015, the sheriff’s office’s appropriations were increased by $84,000, said the commissioner. Between 2016 and 2017, the sheriff’s office appropriations were increased by $320,329. Between 2017 and 2018, there was an additional increase of $470,000. The total difference between 2015 costs and 2018 costs is roughly $875,000, said Smith.
“When we refer to the jail (expenses), we’re specifically talking to out-of-county lodging,” said Smith. “In 2015, we appropriated and spent $276,792. In 2016, we appropriated and spent $338,441. In 2017, we appropriated and spent $468,299. In 2018, $833,649.57. The difference between 2015 and 2018 in this one line item is $556,856.84 in contract services.”
The contract services is specifically the payment to other jail facilities and does not include transportation costs.
“The actual county general fund expenditures increased from 2015 to 2018 for this department (the sheriff’s office)..is $1,604,577,” said Smith.
According to Smith, the county general fund revenue received in 2015 was $9,082,432. In 2016, it was $9,330,579. In 2017, it received $10,405,300. In 2018, it received $9,414,660.87.
“I would mention in that income (referencing the 2017 number) was a large one time increase in our income we saw from the Gavin Power Plant sale,” said Smith. “That was a one time with several hundred thousand dollars.”
Officials said that of surrounding Ohio counties, Gallia was one of the remaining to still have a 7 percent sales tax. 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.
Smith has previously said the potential for building a new jail is being considered by commissioners to solve inmate population concerns.
“This is for the general fund,” said Commissioner Harold Montgomery. “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 but we also have a lot of stress in all departments and funding needs.”
“We have some (not mandated) departments that receive funds, one is the (OSU Extension Office) which is our (4-H programming) and the other is (the Gallia Soil and Water Conservation District),” continued Montgomery. “We are not required to fund those two departments but we take a lot of pride in Gallia County in funding those. If we have issue with our budget funding, those would be the first two to be hit. We do not anticipate decreasing those departments. This is an overall general fund need.”
County Administrator Karen Sprague added that those departments had not seen an increase in budgets in several years. Both Smith and Montgomery agreed that the Soil and Water and 4-H programs in Gallia were “essential to its agricultural future.”
“Gallia County, historically, agriculture has been the backbone of our county and we’ve been very supportive and want to continue to do that,” said Montgomery. “The 4-H extension, that is one of the most important areas of the county, of our youth. It gives them direction where they sometimes might not get it another way. It’s (important) in the development of our youth in keeping them away from drugs.”
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-4446-2342, ext. 2103.