GEORGETOWN – The Brown County Commissioners held the first meeting of the Jail Task Force at their office on Jan. 26. The meeting was to be the organizational meeting to establish the mission of the task force.
The Task Force has been placed with the responsibility to evaluate the Brown County Adult Detention Center fully, from all angles and funds, as well as look at other options for housing inmates. The Task Force has the job of looking not only at direct cost of inmates, but indirect cost of operations that do not come from the Sheriff’s budget, such as insurance, utilities, and maintenance.
“This is only the first step in a long process of finding a solution,” Commissioner Barry Woodruff said. “These guys aren’t going to come back in a week and say ‘let’s build a new jail’ that isn’t there job. They are here to crunch the numbers.”
The Commissioners elected to go with a task force rather than a committee to evaluate the jail. The Ohio Revised Code lays out specific requirements for a committee, but gives no direct requirements for the task force. The committee would be limited to the Commissioners and two representatives from each party, the task gives allows for many members to serve. In all there are 13 members of the Jail Task Force to serve the county. Members include Commissioners Barry Woodruff, Tony Applegate, and Daryll Gray as well as Charles Ashmore, Zac Corbin, Bob Clonch, Joni Dotson, Paul Hall, Greg Lang, Bruce Lunsford, Jim Myers, Jesse Millikin, and Bruce Wallace.
The Task Force elected Paul Hall as Chairman and Greg Lang as Co-Chairman. Each member of the Task Force was given a packet that included information about the Brown County Jail, budgets for the County and cost associated with budgets, as well as information about regional jails in the State of Ohio.
“Everybody is foaming at the mouth saying ‘build a new jail’ and I heard talk about Scioto County and Butler County had 200 extra beds for inmates,” Woodruff said. “So building a big one and folks will come to you isn’t quite as accurate as folks are leading on.”
Woodruff told the Task Force that in order to build a new jail, a pubic safety levy would be required to pass. The job of the Task Force would be to determine the capacity, cost to construct, cost to operate, and any other factor verses the cost of housing inmates in a surround county. The consensus of the Task Force was to try to keep the jail in Brown County by any means necessary.
Corbin told the Task Force from the law enforcement perspective, the County is losing opportunities to investigate crimes as well as obtain new information from the travel distance between Brown County and Butler County. Lunsford said the Village of Mt. Orab had a cruiser totaled while in route to Butler County during an investigation with an inmate housed there.
Woodruff said Brown isn’t the first county in the area to look at the idea of building a new jail. Adams County recently went through the process to determine what needed to be done to fix their facility. At the end of the process, Adams County determined the $12 million cost to build a new jail was too high. But Woodruff reiterated that Adams County had many factors in their number, such as land cost, that Brown County may not have.
While moving forward, the Task Force has been assigned a few things to determine before moving into the committee phase of the evaluation of the jail.
“The question we have at the Commissioners’ Office is ‘what does it cost to house somebody here’ the true cost,” Woodruff said. “Back at the jail right now the Commissioners pay the utility cost, the CORSA insurance, the maintenance and up keep and any repairs. But as Jim and Bruce and you folks know if you are running your own business nobody down the street is paying that for you. You are on your own. It is a freestanding, self contained facility and all of those items need to be charged against it at some point,even if it’s only on paper. I challenge this group to find out what it cost per day per inmate and based on what we find there, let’s be honest with the taxpayers and find out if it is cheaper to do it here or cheaper elsewhere.”
Woodruff dominated the speaking portion of the meeting to iron out the details of what the Commissioners are looking for from the Task Force. He cautioned all to take a look all of the possibilities and leave no stone unturned while evaluating the jail. Woodruff said by design the Task Force was made up of few elected officials. He said it helped keep fresh eyes to the problem.
Committee member Jesse Millikan said the organizational meeting was very beneficial but not to expect miracles.
“We aren’t going to get this thing solved in two meetings,” Millikan said.
The next meeting for the Task Force will be on Feb. 8 as they look deeper into the numbers to try to determine the true cost of housing inmates in Brown County.