Updated Mon, Oct 7, 2013 10:57 am
Supporters of legislation that would allow Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail to borrow money for repairs are slated to testify Tuesday before an Ohio Senate committee.
Senate Bill 82 was introduced in March by Democrat Lou Gentile and Republican Troy Balderson, whose districts include four of the five counties that make up the regional jail — Athens, Hocking, Perry and Vinton, but not Morgan.
Garry Hunter, the jail’s legal counsel, is slated to testify Tuesday in support of the legislation at the Senate Finance Committee’s third hearing on the bill, as is John Leutz, senior policy analyst of the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, according to Maria Haberman, legislative aide for Gentile.
Athens County Commission President Lenny Eliason said he also will be testifying.
The legislation is not slated for a committee vote Tuesday, according to a spokeswoman for Committee Chairman Scott Oeslager.
Gentile would not predict whether the legislation will make it to the Senate floor and be adopted.
“I feel as though things are proceeding fairly well,” Gentile said. “What is encouraging is that thus far there doesn’t appear to be any opposition coming to the forefront.”
At their meeting this past Wednesday, the Athens County Commissioners voted to send a letter to the committee leadership in support of the bill. Haberman said the letter will be submitted to the committee Tuesday.
“Currently, the Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail needs to borrow approximately $400,000 to make necessary repairs,” the letter states. “If Athens County were to borrow this money (on behalf of the jail), it would drastically affect the borrowing capacity of Athens County, and mean other necessary capital projects (of Athens County) cannot be done.”
The Ohio State Auditor’s Office has said the commission that operates the regional jail does not have specific authority under Ohio law to borrow money, meaning that if major funding is needed for repairs, one or more of the member counties would have to borrow the funds. If Senate Bill 82 becomes law, the commission will be able to issue bonds for financing projects, Eliason said. Bond payments could be made over time from operating revenues, he explained.
The legislation also would impact three other regional jails in Ohio.
It’s become an issue now because Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail, which opened in 1998, is in need of significant repairs. Up to this point, minor maintenance has been paid for through regular operating funds.
According to written comments that Hunter has already submitted to the Senate Finance Committee, the jail does not have funds to pay for a $300,000 roof replacement, a $180,000 chiller replacement and $15,000 in parking lot repairs.
Commissioners in Perry County and Morgan County have written to the Finance Committee saying their counties cannot afford to borrow money on behalf of the jail for capital improvements. They also are urging passage of the legislation.
“Morgan County is one of the poorest counties in the state,” the Morgan County Commissioners wrote. “Just meeting our (normal) expenses at the jail is difficult. To be the borrowing county for significant capital projects at the jail is not a viable option even if the existence of the jail is in jeopardy.”
The Hocking County Commissioners also wrote a letter in support of the legislation. Haberman said the letters from Morgan, Hocking and Perry will be submitted to the committee Tuesday.