Legislation To Allow Regional Jail To Borrow Money Working Way Through Ohio Senate

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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."

The Hocking County Commissioners wrote a letter in support of the legislation earlier this week.

"Until recently, the annual cost to Hocking County was primarily for operating cost and minor appropriations for maintenance cost," the letter states. "As the facility has aged, necessary maintenance costs have increased."

The Hocking County letter cites a $300,000 roof replacement that is needed, and the need for a $180,000 chiller.

"Hocking County encourages the adoption of S.B. 82 because no individual county can independently fund these large maintenance projects, and because the repayment of the borrowed moneys is guaranteed by member counties."

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 jail operating revenues, he explained.

The legislation also would impact three other regional jails in Ohio.

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 Athens County Commissioners also wrote a letter in support of the legislation. Haberman said the letters from Morgan, Athens and Perry will be submitted to the committee Tuesday.