OU Students Looking At Regional Jail Cost Sharing

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A group of Ohio University economics students is looking at how to make the distribution of operating costs of Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail more equitable.

Athens County Commissioner Charlie Adkins, County Auditor Jill Thompson and Warden Jeremy Tolson met Monday with the OU students, Professor Emeritus of Economics Richard Vedder and OU Economics Department Chairwoman Rosemary Rossetter to discuss the project.

Vedder said the students — Daniel Garrett, Chris Denhart, Joseph Hartge and Jack Byrne — are volunteering their time and not getting class credit.

It was Adkins who approached Vedder with the idea of having economics students take a look at the jail's finances. Adkins said he believes Athens County is being treated unfairly.

Currently, each of the five member counties pays for a specific allotment of beds each month, whether or not the beds are actually used — a system that gives the jail a guaranteed income for budgeting. In 2012, Athens County paid more than $420,000 for beds not used. The county contracts for 76 beds.

"We're not going to continue to pay (hundreds of thousands of dollars) a year for empty beds," Adkins said.

The other member counties — Perry, Hocking, Morgan and Vinton — also pay for unused beds, but to a much lesser degree. Amounts owed for unused beds by the other counties in 2012 ranged from $83,487 for Perry County to $28,305 for Vinton County, according to an analysis Thompson made earlier this year of the bed allotment system.

Vedder said the students will make recommendations to Athens County officials, Tolson and to the jail's governing board.

Vedder said any proposal that reduces Athens County's share of jail costs can be expected to increase the costs for the other counties.

"The question is, how do you do this in an equitable way?" Vedder said. "Athens is paying disproportionately more than the other counties."

The jail board was made aware at its last meeting that the OU students would be looking at the figures.

Vedder said he does not know how long it will take the students to complete their work, but it could be a month or two.