Sheriff proposes sales tax increase, 500-bed jail


XENIA — The Greene County sheriff is proposing to place a .25 percent sales tax increase on the March 2020 ballot to help fund construction of a 500-bed jail.

After officials from HDR — the architectural, engineering, and consulting firm tasked with studying the current correctional facilities in the county — issued their final report in May, Sheriff Gene Fischer approached the Greene County Board of Commissioners with a position statement.

Fischer proposed four points at the Aug. 8 meeting, including abandoning the sheriff’s administrative office building, the 130-bed downtown jail and the 236-bed adult detention center on Greeneway Boulevard.

“The first two buildings do not meet the current needs of the citizens of Greene County and the ADC can be re-purposed,” he began.

HDR initially presented four options to the board, each different in the number of beds, costs and renovation-construction plans. Fischer said he believes the best option is to build a new 500-bed replacement jail and convert the ADC to be used by a third party for a rehabilitation facility.

“This option allows for the operations of the office of the sheriff to be conducted under one roof and would be the most efficient use of public funding,” he continued.

Fischer paralleled the plan to the Fairfield County Jail design, a facility that he has visited. He said Warren County is building a similar style jail.

“It allows several different options that we don’t have now. [Now], when you’re full or near capacity or in the design-build phase, you can’t necessarily fix things,” he said. “With this kind of facility, we’re not building it to be full. We’re building it to be able to move people around if we need to. This kind of design allows flexibility.”

Jail Administrator Maj. Kirk Keller said the HDR recommendation is to have around 40 percent cells (individual or doubles for isolation or medical units) and 60 percent dorms (open with bunks).

Throughout the planning process, the sheriff and commissioners have focused on calculating the correct number of beds needed in a new facility.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation & Correction inspected the downtown jail in 2018, reporting that while the total actual general housing capacity for the jail is 146, they recommended the housing capacity to be 95. The report indicates there were 137 inmates in the jail on the date of inspection.

But overcrowding is not a new problem for the county jail. Fischer cited a 2003 Fairborn Daily Herald article titled “Jails bulge; judges fume.” It also references a 1989 federal court order against overcrowding after a Greene County inmate sued because of it.

According to Beavercreek Police Chief Dennis Evers, the downtown facility was antiquated when he took his first prisoner there in 1982.

“Clearly the facility has served its purpose and outlived its usefulness and we’re at that point and beyond with the ADC,” he said. “It’s very difficult for our officers to get in and out and process prisoners. I think the tax payers of this county deserve a better county facility.”

Greene County Prosecutor Stephen Haller also expressed his support for the new jail.

“Our Greene County Grand Jury tours the jail once every term and they fill out a report,” he said. “It’s frankly become routine that they always say, ’ You need a new jail’.”

“It’s been an ongoing problem but I don’t anticipate that continuing as we build a new facility,” Fischer responded.

A preliminary cost comparison from architects Wachtel & McAnally estimates a $54.9 million construction cost for one of the plans, not accounting for contingency, staffing or operational costs.

The sheriff asked the board to begin seeking a funding mechanism and have the issue available to the voters on the March 17, 2020 ballot.

“With the State of Ohio’s recent budget bill, a sales tax increase for jail construction is now permissible. A .25 percent sales tax increase over 8 to 12 years, depending on final costs, would pay for the facility in a timely fashion,” he said. “Additional tax on a $100 purchase would be 25 cents.”

Fischer also urged the board to contract with an architect immediately to begin the design-build process.

“I think the fact that we’ve done our due diligence and we’ve spent the time trying to understand what we’re trying to accomplish, gives us the opportunity to really build something special here that’s going to make a difference for our citizens for a long time,” Board President Tom Koogler said.

Next steps include forming a building committee and scheduling a public presentation.

File photos Greene County Sheriff Gene Fischer watches as a broken window is repaired at the downtown jail after an inmate broke it and climbed out of it in 2017. photos Greene County Sheriff Gene Fischer watches as a broken window is repaired at the downtown jail after an inmate broke it and climbed out of it in 2017.

Greene County Sheriff Gene Fischer climbs the jail fire escape following an inmate escape in 2018. County Sheriff Gene Fischer climbs the jail fire escape following an inmate escape in 2018.

By Anna Bolton

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Contact Anna Bolton at 937-502-4498 or follow @annadbolton on Facebook.

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