BUCYRUS — Crawford County voters are being asked once again to consider a sales tax to support the county jail.
In 1994, county residents approved a 0.5 percent sales tax that funded construction of the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office and Justice Center — which is home to the jail — at 3613 Stetzer Road in Bucyrus. The current sales tax issue expires June 30, 2019.
“(The sales tax) was passed for jail operations and construction costs and we’ve been paying the debt (on jail construction) back at about $380,000 a year,” Sheriff Scott M. Kent said. “The last debt repayment will be in December of this year. But just a small percentage of the sales tax was really going toward the debt repayment; most of it is for operations. I think last year, it gave us between $1.4 million and $1.6 million for operations.”
Kent said county residents will experience no change in the 7.25 percent sales tax by supporting the 0.5 percent on the ballot when they go to the polls May 7.
“By passing this, the sales tax isn’t going to go up in Crawford County,” Kent said. “It’ll remain the same. The current jail sales tax expires in June and this replacement sales tax will start collecting in July.”
Last November, Crawford County voters rejected the proposed 0.5 percent sales tax by more than 3,300 votes, 8,781 to 5,413.
Kent said he believes there were multiple reasons that led to the defeat of the sales tax in November.
“Probably the biggest reason it didn’t pass was that we weren’t able to get out there soon enough to really give all the facts on what was going on,” he said. “And I think the ballot language was confusing. If you read down through the ballot language, you really didn’t see anything about the jail listed in there. We just didn’t present it well enough to the public last time.”
Kent said the ballot language is much more precise this time around. Following is the language that voters will see on the ballot on May 7: “The Board of Commissioners of Crawford County proposes to levy a sales and use tax in the amount of 0.5% for the purpose of supporting criminal and administrative justice services specifically the administration and maintenance of the Crawford County Justice Center (jail) for a continuing period of time.”
If approved by voters, the sales tax would go into effect on July 1, 2019.
Jail operation by the numbers
According to Kent, it costs $2.6 million annually to operate the jail, the capacity of which is 120 inmates. As of Monday, it was nearly at capacity with 117 inmates (90 males, 27 females) being housed there. He said it costs about $62 per day to house inmates at the jail.
Local police departments in Galion, Bucyrus, Crestline, and New Washington, and the Ohio Highway Patrol transport individuals they arrest to the Stetzer Road facility. Kent said his office has agreements with law enforcement agencies in Wyandot and Meigs counties and the Shelby and Ontario police departments to house inmates at the Bucyrus facility.
He recently signed an agreement with Gallia County officials to house inmates from that southeastern Ohio county. The jail charges $55 per day to house inmates from outside Crawford County.
On occasion — due to high demand — the jail has housed upward of 140 inmates. During those times, Kent said, corrections officials are forced to use “boats” (portable beds that resemble rowboats) to provide sleeping areas for inmates.
According to Kent, there are 180 doors in the building, each outfitted with interlock security systems that are controlled remotely. All glass in the facility is ballistic grade (bulletproof). More than 90 security cameras (70 of which keep an eye on inmates) are located inside the building. There are 61 toilets and 64 sinks.
Facility wear and tear multiplied
Kent noted that he’s fielded many questions about why a facility that’s “only 21 years old” needs “all this maintenance.” He said housing more than 100 people nearly non-stop takes a toll on the building.
“We’re not like a regular business. We never shut down here. We’re open 24/7/365,” Kent said. “Comparing it to a normal business, or a house, when you leave the house to go somewhere, you shut the lights off, you’re not using the water, the water heater’s not being warmed up, stuff like that.
“Well, here, that never happens. Everything just runs constantly,” he added. “If you would count the hours on a piece of equipment in here that’s been used all day, every day, for 20 years, that’s quite a bit.”
Kent said two high-capacity water heaters (250 gallons) have been replaced in the past two years. The replacement cost totaled $50,000 ($25,000 each).
The sheriff said maintaining the facility occasionally forces him to make difficult decisions regarding how to budget funds.
“We had an air handler go out that we had to replace, but in order to do that, I had to not order any cruisers last year,” Kent said. “That’s how I stay within my budget. Something’s gotta give.”
Additionally, Kent said, the “inmate population, they’re not always so respectful to our facility.” He said the county attempts to recoup expenses due to damage caused by inmates from the inmates themselves, but many of them don’t have jobs or the funds to make restitution.