Greene County contracts with consulting firm in hopes of garnering public support for new jail

The Greene County Jail in downtown Xenia was built in 1969. Richard Wilson/Staff
The Greene County Jail in downtown Xenia was built in 1969. Richard Wilson/Staff

In preparation for putting another initiative on the November ballot for a new jail, Greene County commissioners have contracted with a firm to do preliminary design work for the potential new facility.

Greene County has contracted with Henningson, Durham and Richardson P.C. (HDR) to do some preliminary design and engineering work for about $50,000.

HDR will help develop renderings of what a new jail facility could look like and a communication plan for getting the word out about why a new jail is needed.

ExploreGreene County rejects sales tax hike for new jail, sheriff’s office

Voters rejected a 12-year, quarter-percent sales tax increase last spring.

A new facility would house the jail, administrative offices and adult detention center, Greene County Sheriff Gene Fischer has said. He said getting the three facilities under one roof would make the office much more efficient and would be helpful for detectives.

The county’s current sales tax is 1%, which generates more than $27 million a year for the county’s general fund, according to the county auditor. A quarter-percent increase would generate more than $6 million a year in additional revenue, he said.

Fischer previously told commissioners he thinks the levy failed because the election date was moved due to the COVID pandemic.

A new facility would have replaced the 50-year-old jail in downtown Xenia. The facility has had roof leaks, been inhabited by bats and has areas that are endanger of collapsing, Fischer has said.

The proposed 500-bed facility would have cost an estimated $70 million to build. Fischer said a similar facility is currently being built in Warren County. And a smaller version of the facility was built in Fairfield County.

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Greene County commissioners want specific jail design plans before going back to voters with a funding request to build a jail. Commissioners directed Greene County Administrator Brandon Huddleson to seek proposals for preliminary project design work and he settled on HDR.

The county will potentially ask voters to help fund a new jail on the November ballot, Huddleson said, so they would like to have some renderings of the desired new jail to present to voters.

At a work session between commissioners, Huddleson and Fischer, the county leaders determined the only way to get a new jail built is to go to the voters. Also at that work session, commissioners told Fischer they may need to build a smaller facility to get more voters on board with the project.

Commissioners said they wanted to get specific design plans so the county can have something to sell to voters. Huddleson said the county needs to look at a different way of marketing the new jail.

The county hired HDR to do a jail needs assessment in 2019.

Based on what the jail needs assessment found, the county asked Greene County voters for a sales tax increase to help fund a new, bigger jail. Greene County residents rejected the tax hike in 2020. Forty percent of the sales tax levy revenue would have come from people who live outside of Greene County buying things in the county, so residents were being asked to pay for 60% of the new increase, commissioners said.

This new phase of work should take about eight weeks, according to the contract between HDR and the county. HDR will develop a list of spaces to go inside a new jail and two renderings based on initial design concepts.

HDR will work with the county on communications around the proposed new facility until the November election, including educating the public and “social listening,” or monitoring what is said about the proposal on social media.