County commissioners talk workforce, health and infrastructure in State of County address



The Montgomery County commission on Wednesday presented the State of the County, where they walked hundreds of community leaders through updates related to local infrastructure, health and workforce needs.

Instead of giving separate speeches related to development in the county over the past year, Commissioners Debbie Lieberman, Judy Dodge and Carolyn Rice answered questions asked by Dayton Daily News reporter Sydney Dawes in front of a live audience at Sinclair Community College in Dayton.

Highlights from that conversation included talking points related to large upgrades to water infrastructure, updates at the Montgomery County Jail, programs surrounding employment and efforts to address food and housing insecurity. Here are some excerpts:

Question: How did the county work to modernize infrastructure? And can you talk about the $65 million SMART project? What does SMART stand for?

Rice: “We believe that investing in our community is the way to really enhance the quality of life for our citizens. And certainly investments in infrastructure truly benefit all. So those investments were in water sewer services, solid waste and recent services. It was mentioned that the county maintains 1,400 miles of water lines. Now to get that into perspective, that’s like the distance from here to Denver. That’s a lot of water lines.”

“(SMART) stands for the Sewer Modernization and Revitalized Treatment project. What it will do is to consolidate all the water reclamation in West Carrollton. Now, what our brilliant Environmental Services team did a few years ago is they contracted and put a ball down into these sewer lines. And it went through there and this ball could take photographs. So they were assessing the condition of all of those sewer lines. You do not want your sewers not to work right, so we want to get to them before they break. And it actually turned out better than we expected. The results were better, but we knew that we had to move ahead and make those investments.”

Question: Montgomery County last year announced a $20 million project to take away 226 general population beds from Montgomery County Jail and add more than 100 medical beds. What efforts went toward crafting the vision for Montgomery County Jail’s future? Under the lens of behavioral health and a difficult year at the jail, how will these efforts help people staying at the jail?

Lieberman: “We knew we needed to do something. So we put together a team that spent more than a year — the Jail Justice Committee. One of their recommendations was, ‘You need to build a new jail.’ And throughout Ohio, right now we’re seeing new jails built all over. The state has assisted some of the smaller counties with money to build those jails, but we’re pretty low on the list.

“What we’re looking at is doing 112 beds. And it will be staffed with experts that can look at detox and mental health. And it will also help our judges as well. So it’s a win-win. The other parts of the jail that aren’t safe will be made safe and again, we’re doing this for $20 million, which is kind of incredible.”

“[Inmates] will have better dedicated care. Right now, we only have so many nurses and people that can help them. We will have more staffing, but also (inmates) who need care won’t be in the general population. But it’s bigger than that. When men and women come into the jail, oftentimes they come in and we don’t know what kind of medication they’re on, if any. We are developing, with the Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association, a portal. If people are in the system, we will know what they need and be able to provide better care for them.”

Question: Let’s focus on food and housing. How many people in Montgomery County need public assistance?What did the county see during the annual point-in-time count of people experiencing homelessness?

Dodge: “Last year, we had about 80,000 people receiving SNAP benefits. So that’s about 15% of our population and our population is, what, 530,000? The cost of food, as we all know when we go to the grocery store, it continues to rise, and paychecks need to be more reflective of that. We have about 185,000 people enrolled in Medicaid. We keep facilitating that support for Montgomery County citizens but we always look to be creative and to help these people in ways to make sure that they have decent food and housing. Another thing too is child care. This is another problem we have. That’s a real struggle for people. We have people who want to return to the workforce. But guess what? The cost of daycare is cost prohibitive. Right now we are providing childcare assistance for about 7,600 people here in Montgomery County. We need employers to pay their employees fair and decent wages. Companies also have the opportunity to provide employee benefits, such as free or subsidized childcare.”

Rice: “So [the point-in-time count] essentially is required annually across the nation so that, year-by-year, you can see what the trends are, whether it’s going up or down. What we found is that we have 687 individuals who are unsheltered. Now 92 of these people were totally unsheltered. So, our teams go on railroad tracks in the places that we know that these individuals go to and that is down from the year before. You know, 687 is far too many, far too many.”

Question: How is Montgomery County connecting people to jobs?

Lieberman: “We’re connecting people every day. We have an incredible workforce team. When we talk the full spectrum, it’s everything from people, young people, teenagers, all the way through to people in maybe their second or even third career. We have a mobile unit that can go into the neighborhoods. It rolled out right at the beginning of the pandemic, but it has been really a great asset. Our job fairs, we have several a year. We have other smaller hiring events. And then something we just did two weeks ago, was a reverse job fair with our Office of Reentry. The reverse job fairs are just what it sounds like: the men and women that have gone through our Reentry Career Alliance are at our Office of Reentry set up a booth kind of for themselves. And then the employers came through and met with each of them. It’s our second time doing that and it really was great. Our workforce is there for the employee, but also for the employer. We can assist through all kinds of things — whether it’s getting background checks, whether it’s doing drug tests, you know, we can help the employer get the employees they need. We do hiring events for employers as well. And we didn’t really talk about the Business Solution Center yet, but that’s a place that employers can go. We have a lot of classes there, meetings there. It’s a beautiful place right across the highway from the University of Dayton arena.”

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