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

Voters in Greene County will decide in the spring whether to increase the sales tax rate to pay for a new multi-million dollar jail that would greatly increase inmate capacity.
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Voters in Greene County will decide in the spring whether to increase the sales tax rate to pay for a new multi-million dollar jail that would greatly increase inmate capacity.

Voters in Greene County will decide in the spring whether to increase the sales tax rate to pay for a new multi-million dollar jail that would greatly increase inmate capacity.

Commissioners voted 3-0 Tuesday to place the 12-year, quarter-percent increase on the March 17 ballot.

The 500-bed jail facility and a new sheriff’s office, to be built next to the juvenile justice center and across from the adult detention center, would cost about $60 million, but with interest on bond payments, the total cost is estimated at $70 million.

RELATED: Greene County considers sales tax increase to fund new jail

While commissioners were unanimous in bringing the issue to the voters, they were not in agreement on the project’s size.

“I believe that we would be better served to have a jail that we could add on to versus building it all at one time,” Commission President Tom Koogler said prior to the vote.

Koogler cited potential advancements in technology and new legislation potentially reducing “the need for incarceration.”

Commissioners Bob Glaser and Dick Gould disagreed, calling the proposed size appropriate.

“What we’re seeing from the state is, basically, they’re kicking the incarceration of prisoners back down to the local level,” Glaser said. “If the growth isn’t there quite frankly, we have the opportunity to immediately transfer prisoners in from other areas because there’s a shortage of jail space, and we can charge other counties for that space. There’s an offset here immediately in terms of overhead.”

The proposed increase of the sales tax is estimated to generate approximately $7.1 million a year, according to the Greene County Auditor’s Office. The county’s current rate of 6.75% is expected to generate at least $28.4 million this year, according to the auditor’s office.

Sheriff Gene Fischer said increasing the sales tax makes more sense than seeking another property tax, in part because the last few years about half of inmates housed in Greene County live outside the county.

“It’s not just property owners and Greene County residents who would pay for it, but it’s everybody that’s coming into Greene County to do business here,” Fischer said. “This is an opportunity to do something that’s needed in Greene County and share the cost with the out-of-towners.”

Greene County held two public hearings before voting to place the sales tax increase on the ballot. Some residents expressed concerns about the size of the proposed new jail. Some residents, like Auston Hensley of Beavercreek, are feeling overtaxed as it is. Beavercreek voters approved a fire/EMS tax increase in November and in May approved increases for a school tax and a parks levy.

“We might need a new jail, but Beavercreek is already suffering,” Hensley said. “I have to vote no. We need a new jail, but the money simply isn’t there.”

The commission vote comes after about two years of discussions and a consultant's report on the county's need for a new jail. At a cost of $177,000, the county hired Omaha-based consultant HDR in 2018 to complete the jail assessment report.

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.

Greene County is not alone in the need for a new or improved jail facility.

RELATED: Jail administrator: New facility, ‘new paradigm’ needed in county corrections

Construction started earlier this year on an estimated $56.5 million new jail Warren County. Commissioners bypassed voters and opted instead to impose a quarter-percent sales tax increase, bringing its rate to 7%.

Warren County’s increase is set to expire in five years. The additional revenue, combined with expenditures from the county, is paying for the 496-bed facility in Lebanon, to be completed in 2021.

Montgomery County is also looking for new revenue to renovate its jail in downtown Dayton.

At 7.5%, Montgomery County joins Franklin County with the highest sales tax rate among Ohio's 88 counties, according to the Ohio Department of Taxation.

Montgomery County entered a $493,500 contract with the same consulting firm, HDR, after a citizens committee assessed the jail and suggested several changes, including constructing a new building.

Montgomery County’s jail had an average daily incarceration of 807 inmates in 2018. It has a capacity to hold 909 inmates.

Greene County’s proposed facility includes some projected increases in operational costs.

Fischer said with more capacity to house inmates, there are anticipated increases in medical care and food service, but personnel costs are not expected to increase.

“Looking at the design of this facility, I am convinced that we can manage it with our current staffing levels,” he said.

The increased capacity would provide the sheriff’s office more options for increasing rehabilitation services and managing facilities.

“A 500-bed facility doesn’t necessarily mean I need to put 500 inmates in there … I’d like to be able to move people around. If an area needs cleaned, we can close it off, put them somewhere else, that’s what I’m looking forward to. We can’t do that now,” Fischer said.

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By the numbers

.25: Percent increase in sales tax to be decided by voters

$70 million: Estimated cost to build new jail and sheriff's office, plus interest on bonds

500: Capacity of proposed jail

Source: Greene County

Percent sales tax rates (by county)

Butler: 6.5

Greene: 6.75

Warren, Miami, Madison: 7

Clark, Preble, Champaign, Clinton: 7.25

Montgomery, Franklin: 7.5

Source: Ohio Department of Taxation

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