Greene County to ask for sales tax increase in November to pay for new jail

Greta Mayer, left, CEO of the Mental Health and Recovery Board of Clark, Greene and Madison Counties, speaks at a public hearing on a sales tax increase to build a new Greene County jail on July 29. At right, commissioners Rick Perales, Dick Gould and Tom Koogler look on. Eileen McClory / Staff
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Greta Mayer, left, CEO of the Mental Health and Recovery Board of Clark, Greene and Madison Counties, speaks at a public hearing on a sales tax increase to build a new Greene County jail on July 29. At right, commissioners Rick Perales, Dick Gould and Tom Koogler look on. Eileen McClory / Staff

Greene County will ask voters in November to increase the county’s sales tax 0.25% to fund a new county jail.

County commissioners voted Thursday in favor of the ballot request that would pay for a proposed 384-bed jail estimated to cost $50 million, Greene County Administrator Brandon Huddleson said. Currently, the Greene County jail and Adult Detention Center combined have 382 beds.

“I don’t think there’s anybody that the sheriff and I have talked with or that we’ve communicated with, will disagree that it needs to be replaced,” said Major Kirk Keller, the Greene County jail administrator. “Even if they’re in opposition to a new jail facility, their opposition is to the number of beds, not the fact that we have to have a new facility.”

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The Greene County jail has been under a 32-year federal consent decree that does not allow for overcrowding in the jail, said Greene County Sheriff Gene Fischer.

The sales tax increase would collect an estimated $6 million per year and would continue to be collected until the jail is paid off. Huddleson said there is not a definite date when the tax would end, but commissioners will petition the tax commissioner to reduce collections on the increase to zero as soon as the jail bond issue is retired.

Commissioner Dick Gould said the exact cost was also difficult to determine due to the fluctuating costs of lumber and construction materials.

The Greene County Sheriff’s Office says the current jail does not allow for space for mental health needs, nor does it have adequate space for inmates to visit with family.

Keller said he believes the deterioration of the jail is also leading more people to quit their jobs at the sheriff’s office, affecting their retention of employees.

On Thursday, several Greene County residents called for more mental health and addiction services in the county.

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Janis James, a Xenia resident, said she would like to see plans from the county about what mental health and addiction treatment Greene County residents would see in the new jail.

“We’re not getting to the core issue,” she said. “Why do they keep showing up?”

David Hayes, Greene County prosecutor, said he supported the sheriff’s need for a new jail. He said the state of Ohio does not provide adequate funding for mental health.

Greta Mayer, CEO of the Mental Health and Recovery Board of Clark, Greene and Madison Counties, said it was important to talk about the partnership between the mental health system and the courts currently happening.

“I think the conversation up until this point, which I feel like we’re at a tipping point, has been it is either a new jail or we spend money for services,” she said. “And I really think it’s both, and. We need both.”

Greene County residents voted down a levy in April 2020 that would have imposed a 12-year, 0.25% sales tax to pay for a new, 500-bed jail. County leaders contend a new jail is still needed and revised the plans to have fewer beds.