After 121 Years, Meigs County Might Get a New Jail< < Back to
Since 1896 the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office and jail has operated in the same building. Until 1984 the building also served as the sheriff’s residence, housing 18 sheriffs throughout the facility’s history.
For the first time, Meigs County voters will decide whether to pass a levy for the construction and operation of a new “Justice Center” for the county.
Since Sheriff Wood and County Commissioner Randy Smith took office four years ago, they’ve been working on a plan to build a new correctional facility. This election day the Sheriff’s Office and County Commissioners are asking voters to pass a property tax increase in the form of a 2.95 mil levy. County Commissioner Smith said residents can go to the Meigs County Auditor website to see how this tax would impact them personally.
Smith called it an easy process. He broke down an example of a home valued at $100,000.
“If you’re appraised at $100,000, it asks you for additional millage. In this levy, it’s 2.95. Put that in, hit calculate. It tells you what your district is, it tells you what your tax rate is, it tells you that you’re assessed on 35% of your property, so it values you at $35,000. Tells you that your additional tax is $103, this is annually. So then it tells you also what your total tax is, so it adds that to what your tax bill would have been last season,” said Smith.
But many in Meigs wouldn’t pay more than $100, Smith told WOUB that the median home value in the county is appraised at $85,000. If the levy passes the average homeowner in the county would pay an extra $88 annually in property taxes.
Currently the jail is only able to house five inmates at a time for a maximum of 12 days. Sheriff Keith Wood said that deputies spend the majority of their time transporting inmates to other county jails. Last year the county spent over $227,000 housing inmates in other Ohio county facilities. Deputies are off Meigs County roads, traveling as far as 328 miles roundtrip sometimes just to house one inmate. Meigs County Jail Administrator, Major Scott Trussell, said this is a huge problem they face every day and called this is a statewide issue.
“One time, we actually checked 38 different jails in the state of Ohio, trying to find room for one female. And finally, Stark County, Akron, took her. And so, when you’re calling and asking, again, I’m back to the same thing, ‘Hey, you got room for a female?’ ‘No, full up.’ Judge said she has to go to jail. So, if we have to drive to Toledo, we’re driving to Toledo, 4 ½ hours. Right now, 3 ½ hours is what we drive, one way, to Stark, to Crawford County, to Marrow County, to Butler County. So, taking an officer out of the county, you’re putting miles on a car that’s already got 190,000 miles on it, you’ve got wear-and-tear on the vehicles, it just increases the expenses constantly,” said Major Trussell.
Major Trussell said building a larger facility could also be a source of revenue for the county.
“So, bringing the revenue in, housing inmates for other people, and that way, we get the money from them, and by doing that, we can actually pay the construction loan off, and then it will–once we pay that off, we can actually generate the money to offset the cost and self-sustain ourselves,” said Major Trussell.
Instead of Meigs County looking to other counties for cell space, counties could request space from the new facility, which is designed to have 71 cells. Currently six neighboring counties have committed to reserving cell space if the new facility becomes reality.
While the Sheriff’s Office and County Commissioners see the jail as an opportunity generate revenue for the county, some community members don’t like the idea of a prison for profit. Lifelong Meigs County resident, Clinton Bailey takes ethical issue with the idea of making money off of putting residents in jail.
“I don’t think making a business, it’s just ethically wrong. I don’t like the thought of making a business out of people’s misfortune,” said Bailey.
“I hate to have to look at a correctional facility as a business, but you really do. I mean it’s how you run it, how you operate it, how that’s how you generate the revenue to be able to sustain yourself. And that’s the goal to be able to sustain what you’re doing and take care of yourself,” said Sheriff Wood.
“There’s no services for someone that’s addicted to heroin. Right now, coming out of our jail, they walk out the door, there’s nothing with them. The rehabilitation part, so to speak, of having services in this new facility to follow this person out, so that way they’re getting help when they’re leaving, and services are with them, and the chances of them coming back are hopefully reduced. We’ve had people, and to give you a good example, a couple different times that spent 30 days, so many days, in jail here, that–for drugs, and walk out, within a couple days, they overdose and die. There’s nothing following them out the door to give them any services,” said Major Trussell.
The opioid crisis is something resonating with many voters, such as Joyce Ann Burgess, as a reason for the new facility.
“I hope it does something fast because right now we have a relative that has OD’d twice in the last two weeks and possibly is not gonna make it. Had there been intervention it may have changed her life. So if it saves somebody else, I’m all for it,” said Burgess.
Sheriff Wood hopes voters will help him provide a better future for the county.
“Do we pass it to another generation to let them worry about it or do we handle it today and say ‘We got a solution to this; let’s fix it,'” said Sheriff Wood.