New multi-million Greene Co. jail possible if voters approve tax levy

The current Greene County Jail in downtown Xenia has been in use for 51 years. Staff photo / Sarah Franks
The current Greene County Jail in downtown Xenia has been in use for 51 years. Staff photo / Sarah Franks

EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Ohio primary election was moved from March 17. The deadline to vote in the Ohio primary election is April 28. Voters must request an absentee ballot from their county’s board of election if they have not already voted. All absentee ballots mailed in must have a postmark of April 27 to be counted, and all ballots must be received by the boards by May 8 to be counted. Voters can drop off the ballots to board offices in person by 7:30 p.m. April 28. In-person voting will be offered on April 28, but will only occur at boards of elections early voting center and only be available for people with disabilities who require in-person voting and people who do not have a home mailing address. Local election officials say voters need to make sure they include all the required information on absentee ballot request forms and pay close attention to unsolicited request forms they get in the mail. State law allows ballots to be scanned but they cannot be tabulated until 7:30 p.m. April 28.

Greene County voters will soon decide if they want to increase their sales tax in an effort to build a new multi-million dollar county jail and sheriff’s office.

If Issue 12 passes, Greene County residents will pay a 12-year, quarter-percent sales tax increase. The proposed 500-bed facility would cost an estimated $70 million to build. If the levy passes, it will be up to the county commissioners to bid-out the project to contractor.

Greene County voters to decide on sales tax increase for new jail

Greene County Sheriff Gene Fischer presented to county commissioners in August his proposal to replace the 50-year-old jail in downtown Xenia, however, conversations around the need for a new facility began long before 2019.

“We have fought bats, we have fought roof leaks, we’ve fought what used to be an auto-repair area almost pull away from the rest of the building,” Fischer said. “It’s going to fall down one of these days and I hope not to be in it when it does.”

A new facility would house the new county jail, in addition to the administrative offices and adult detention center. Fischer said getting the three facilities under one roof would make the office much more efficient and would be helpful for detectives.

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The county currently has a sales tax of 1%, which generates more than $27 million a year for the county’s general fund, said County Auditor David Graham. A quarter-percent increase would generate more than $6 million a year in additional revenue, Graham said.

Residents who are opposed to Issue 12 said they agree a new jail is needed, however, the proposed capacity is the issue.

“Build Better — Not Bigger,” read signs and informational flyers made by the the organized opposition, Greene County Citizens Against Giant Jail Tax. The group formed early this year with about 15 core members, said Bomani Moyenda, one of the group’s organizers.

“Giant jail might sound kind of inflammatory, but the reason we put that in there is we’re pretty confused why the Greene County commissioners chose from the report that was given by the consulting firm that they hired with tax payer money — why did they choose the largest jail, with a 30% increase in beds, and the most costly jail,” said Pat DeWees, member of Citizens Against Giant Jail Tax. “We don’t understand that.”

2019: Sheriff: Sales tax increase can pay for $70M new jail, administration building

On March 5, the group held a gathering in front of the courthouse to present their issues with the sales tax. Speakers said the proposed jail goes against a national, bipartisan trend to reduce jail populations.

“Issue 12’s $70 million jail tax has no money for increased mental health services, drug treatment and probation services,” reads a flyer distributed by the opposition group. “Like cash bail reform, these services would reduce the county’s jail population. Let’s ask our county officials to come back with a more reasonable plan”

Fischer said he appreciates residents expressing their opinion, but increasing the capacity to 500 beds is necessary for a new jail to sustain the next 50 years.

“500 beds — I don’t want 500 inmates in the jail,” he said. “I’ve said this from day one. … If we ever get to the point where we have 450 inmates, whoever the sheriff is at that time is going to need to add on to this facility. … This past summer we had an air conditioning problem in the jail. Contractors had to come in for six months and we had nowhere to put the inmates, so we had to pay overtime everyday to have people protect the contractors.”

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The jail in downtown Xenia, built in 1969, has been operating under a federal consent decree since 1989 because of overcrowding. Greene County has an average daily population of 285 inmates for both the downtown jail and the adult detention center, and that is projected to increase to 366 inmates by 2035. The county needs to have a capacity of at least 420 beds to accommodate the increase, according to HDR’s report.

“The functions that jail does are very limited,” Fischer said. “It’s a high-security facility, but we’ve had to actually, with the increase of the female population, we’ve had to take less males there. We have another facility west of town but it’s basically a pole barn and you can’t put high-risk people out there.”

Under the decree, Fischer said they have had to release some inmates when there is no room left. Once released, they’re ordered to come back to court.

Ohio law requires that a sales tax increase to pay for a new jail and/or its operations must be brought before the voters, according to County Administrator Brandon Huddleson.