Taxpayers get chance to weigh in on $50 million jail plan

Warren County commissioners are scheduled Tuesday to hear from taxpayers about their plans to increase the county sales tax by 1/4 percent to pay for a $50 million jail.

The first of two public hearings is scheduled for 9:30 a.m., as the commissioners continue to weigh which architects to hire to design the project.

“We’re actually raising taxes just to do this,” Commissioner Dave Young said on June 23 after three firms vying for the jail design contract were interviewed.

Sheriff Larry Sims responded, “I’ve got your back, for whatever that’s worth.”

Earlier in June, the commissioners voted unanimously to move toward raising the sales tax from 6.75 percent to 7 percent for up to five years.

RELATED: Sales tax to pay for new Warren County Jail

The tax is expected to raise $10 million a year to offset the cost of financing the project.

A referendum effort could be mounted.

The commissioners scheduled Tuesday’s public hearing and one at 9 am. on July 18 to hear public input on their plans.

A jail study projected the cost at $56 million, not including costs to borrow money for the project.

RELATED: Study: Warren County jail could cost $56 million

Plans are to begin construction in 2018 and move into the new facility, to be built behind the current facilities, in 2020.

The jail capacity would be increased from 280 to 468 inmates.

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The commissioners opted to move forward on the sales tax, rather than a property tax, in part because the majority of sales tax is paid by people who live outside the county, rather than local residents.

Also, the county is considering seeking a property tax levy to fund children’s services.

RELATED: Vote delayed on sales tax

On June 23, the commissioners interviewed three firms, including K2M Design, which did the needs assessment recommending construction of a new jail, rather than renovation of the existing one.

No decision was made, but the commissioners, and Sims and a group of staffers who previously ranked the applicants was leaning toward Wachtel & McInally, a firm that specializes in Ohio jails.

During the interviews, the commissioners and consultants discussed the pros and cons of renovation and new construction, along with locating the facility in the county complex off East Avenue in Lebanon and on another site.

The county owns 40 acres west of downtown Lebanon, near the intersection of Markey Road and Ohio 63, Main Street in Lebanon,

RELATED: New commissioner on board on building new jail

Last week, Commissioner Tom Grossmann said the alternate location was “a possibility,” but would present the sheriff’s office with transportation issues when moving inmates to and from court.

The current jail is connected to the county court, where some misdemeanor cases are heard and across Memorial Drive from the common pleas court where felony cases are dealt with.

Grossmann also said he questioned plans to demolish the newer section of the existing jail and still opposed a sales tax hike, unless it was proposed to voters.

Even without Grossmann’s vote, the commissioners could move forward on the tax after the July 18 public hearing.

But there is no time scheduled yet for a decision on the architect, the location or design of the new jail.

“Ultimately we’re the ones who are on the hook. We have to be comfortable with who we are hiring,” Young said at the June 23 meeting.

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