XENIA — County residents and staff voiced their feelings about a proposed .25 percent sales tax increase during a Greene County Commissioners public hearing Thursday.
If a levy is placed on the November ballot and successfully passes, Greene County’s sales tax would go from 6.75 percent to 7 percent. It would go into effect three months later and would help fund a new county jail facility in Xenia.
The county tried in April 2020 to pass a similar increase, but it failed 22,920-14,205. The tax would have generated $70,000,000 for a 500-bed jail. Currently, the sheriff’s department operates three facilities: a 52-year-old, 146-bed downtown jail; the almost 100-year-old building that contains the sheriff’s offices; and the 21-year-old, 236-bed Adult Detention Center on Greene Way Boulevard.
“A sales tax increase would remain in place until construction costs are paid,” Greene County Commissioner Dick Gould said. “The downtown jail is 52-years-old and has outlived its usefulness. The number of beds for the project has been reduced from 500 to 384 beds.”
Greene County Sheriff Gene Fischertalked about the existing safety issues for those who use the jail and the sheriff’s department facilities.
“The jail has an impact on the hiring of employees,” Fischer said. “In the next year or two, major expenses are coming up at both jail facilities. We are trying to push that off.”
There are myriad problems with the buildings. The floor is giving away in the jail’s carport and cars are no longer able to be brought there, Fischer previously said to Greene County News. The administrative facility has experienced issues with bats, leaking water, and other rodents.
During the hearing, Greene County Sheriff’s Department Major Kirk Keller said that most of the plumbing and infrastructure is original and does not comply with current standards.
“We need to abandon the county jail,” Keller said. “That recommendation has previously been made a few years ago.”
Keller said that the Adult Detention Center can hold a jail population of 236. However, there are only two holding cells to handle the entire population.
“There is a lack of space for treatment and education,” Keller said. “The civilian employees that have to work with inmates in deteriorating facilities are affected by the current facilities in use.”
While discussing the need for a significant number of beds, Keller said that the department keeps its inmates locally. The department does not send inmates to other places. Inmates are treated in Greene County.
“Let’s keep the number of beds down, but be prepared for future occurrences,” Keller said. “Let’s do the right thing this time. Let’s build the right thing.”
Major Shawn Prall reiterated the issues his department is having with bats and other rodents. Also, he talked about the department’s need for more space.
“We are closing offices to store files,” Prall said.
Prall said the department only has one interview room which makes managing multiple cases difficult.
Two citizens signed up to speak. Yellow Springs resident Lindie Keaton expressed concern for the lack of talk about pretrial and/or support services.
“Build a jail as small as possible and one that will not hurt people’s lives,” Keaton said.
Former Fairborn City Mayor Dan Kirkpatrick said that he once took a tour of the jail.
“My concern is we can do better than this,” he said. “I fully support building a new jail. Our citizens deserve that. Our employees deserve that. We can do better. We should do better.”
Commissioner Tom Koogler said having good facilities crucial.
“We are not fixing anything because we don’t have the facilities to fix anything,” he said. “We can’t fix the problem unless we have the facilities to fix the problem in.”
Greene County Commissioner Rick Perales talked about what the passage of a levy and building of a new jail would mean to the community.
“It is the cornerstone of our community,” Perales said. “We have to make sure we do everything right.”
Gould added that a new facility would allow for new programming opportunities.