Oct. 13—COLUMBUS — The Ohio House on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly to set up a new funding mechanism that could prove critical to Lucas County's hopes of building a new jail.
House Bill 101 would create a permanent state funding program to assist counties in constructing new jails and renovating old ones that would be similar to the existing program that helps build new K-12 schools. The measure now goes to the Senate for consideration.
"What we didn't know when we came out with this bill was how big a problem this is around the state," said Rep. Jay Edwards (R., Nelsonville), one of the bill's sponsors. "From the lake to the river, we've heard from counties (and) law enforcement across this great state that are all having this same issue. That's really what's pushed this bill along."
He noted that Meigs County in southeast Ohio had to close its jail permanently.
"Their law enforcement can't house any inmates," he said. "Most of their law enforcement are traveling outside the county to find places to house inmates, which results in less public safety in those counties."
Passed by a vote of 93-2, the bill would prioritize counties deemed most in need based on their ability to raise revenue through local property and sales taxes and the current condition of their jails.
Like the school construction formula, money would be set aside via the state's mostly borrowing-fueled capital budget approved every two years.
"Essentially, this bill shifts the focus to a long-term, ongoing solution of this state-county partnership," said Rep. Jason Stephens (R., Kitts Hill), the bill's other sponsor. The bill does not include an appropriation, but the goal is to get the program into law in time for the state's upcoming capital bill.
"We're working to make sure the needs of local communities and the needs of law enforcement are part of the conversation when it comes time to work on the capital bill," he said.
The bill would fund renovations to an existing jail as long as those improvements do not cost more than half that of building a new one.
The state's share of a project would be at least 25 percent. A county could meet its part of the deal using general budget revenue, outside contributions, borrowing, or tax levies. It cannot fund its share by renting space in the jail to other local governments.
Lucas County has been talking for years about replacing its downtown Toledo jail, built in 1977.
"We have to have a new jail," Lucas County Sheriff Mike Navarre said. "If we can't get the state of Ohio or federal government to do it, we have to find the money locally. That's how important this project is...It's important to have a funding stream for counties for detention facilities because, in a general sense, voters do not support any type of local tax dollars for detention facilities. Look at the history."
The county is tentatively studying the feasibility of using the downtown Toledo-Lucas County Health Department site as the location for its next jail.
Officials have estimated the price tag at about $100 million. The county has applied for a piece of $50 million that was included in the current capital budget for this purpose.
County voters in 2018 rejected a tax levy to build a new jail on a proposed North Toledo site. A year earlier an attempt to put a levy on the ballot for a proposed South Toledo site failed.
First Published October 13, 2021, 2:35pm