Greene County moving toward sales tax request on November ballot to build jail

Richard Wilson/Staff
Richard Wilson/Staff

Two informational meetings for the public to be held in July.

Greene County is taking preliminary steps to place an additional quarter percent sales tax request for building a new jail on the November ballot.

Greene County will hold two informational meetings at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 22 and 1:30 p.m. Thursday, July 29 to discuss the potential plans for this new jail. Both will take place at 35 Greene St.

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

In 2020, a 500-bed facility was proposed. County Administrator Brandon Huddleson said much of the feedback they got from the public was that that size of jail was too big.

“We’ve heard the public and we’re asking for a smaller facility, the same size as the current one,” Huddleson said.

The county hired consulting firm HDR to draw renderings of the potential 384-bed jail to present to the public at these informational sessions. Huddleson said the county plans to potentially build the same size jail, but make it more flexible.

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.

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

Greene County residents who were opposed to the jail in 2020 say this new proposal is still not a good idea.

“We are pleased to see they’ve reduced capacity, however we continue to believe that this is much larger than we need,” said Kate LeVesconte, who is a member of Greene County Coalition for Compassionate Justice, formerly known as No New Giant Jail.

LeVesconte said the group feels a smaller jail would save the county money and make more sense. U.S. incarceration rates have been declining since 2008, she said. LeVesconte said legislation currently in the Ohio House and Senate would make sweeping bail reform and that if those things were to pass, the state should be anticipating needing fewer jails.

“We need to figure out a way to determine who can be released on their own recognizance more quickly, because studies have shown that being incarcerated even for a short period does harm to a person,” LeVesconte said.

She said jail population and the need for a new jail of the same size would go down if there was criminal justice reform.

The group feels that the adult detention center (ADC) is in good condition, based on what a past needs assessment found. LeVesconte said if the county kept the ADC, they could build a much smaller facility for high-risk individuals.

If this new tax request is defeated, LeVesconte and the Greene County Coalition for Compassionate Justice would support a proposal that included both a new building and a plan for the additional services that would best support the county in providing the criminal justice rehabilitative services needed.

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.

Fischer previously told this newspaper that the ADC is basically a “pole barn” built in 2000 and is was not built to last a long time.

The downtown Xenia facility has had roof leaks, been inhabited by bats and has areas that are endanger of collapsing, Fischer has said. The 500-bed facility proposed in 2020 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.

“It is important to get this passed because construction costs go up every year and we need a new facility. Even people who weren’t in favor of the new jail last time around can agree on that,” Huddleson said.

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.