Legislation Will Allow Jails To Borrow Money

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Legislation to allow regional jails to borrow money — a proposed change in state law supported by member counties of the Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail — has been approved by the Ohio Senate.

State Sen. Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville, said Wednesday that the legislation passed with unanimous support. It was co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Troy Balderson of Zanesville. Gentile and Balderson represent districts that include parts of Athens County.

Athens County Commissioner Lenny Eliason said he was pleased to learn the legislation garnered Senate approval and hopes the same will happen in the Ohio House.

The Athens County Commissioners had written a letter in support of the Senate bill, as had their counterparts in Hocking, Perry, Morgan and Vinton Counties. The five are member counties of Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail.

Under current law, if regional jails want to make repairs they must do it from operating funds, or one or more of the counties must borrow money on behalf of the jail.

“That’s not the best way to manage your money,” Eliason said. Operating money for the regional jail comes from the member counties.

The legislation, if it becomes law, would allow the commission that operates Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail to borrow money for repairs.

“We have major improvements we have to make because of the aging facility and no money to make them with,” said Hocking County Commissioner Clark Sheets.

Garry Hunter, legal counsel for the regional jail, said in written testimony to the Senate that 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.

The change in law also would benefit other regional jails in Ohio.

“There are four regional jails in Ohio, and we’re now at a stage with these facilities where significant repair and modifications are needed,” Gentile said. “This legislation alleviates the necessity of individual counties to borrow the moneys to maintain regional jail facilities and allows them to focus on providing vital services to the community.”

Gentile said five hearings were held on the Senate bill, during which no opposition surfaced.

“This bill only grants to regional jails the ability to borrow moneys for capital projects in a manner that is typical for political subdivisions,” Gentile said. “It keeps the costs of operating and maintaining regional jails workable for the counties.”