By JOY BROWN
Hancock County Commissioner Mark Gazarek says Findlay’s refusal to pay jail fees for the past three months is “disconcerting,” but it isn’t going to force the county into changing its proposed contract for inmate housing.
Mayor Lydia Mihalik has listed two sticking points as reasons for not yet signing the annual jail contract.
Gazarek said the two issues were not raised by the city prior to the county’s decision to raise daily housing fees from $55 to $84.
Mihalik doesn’t think the city should pay for a full day of housing when an inmate is booked later at night.
She also said the sheriff’s office has not complied with state law that mandates it transport inmates elsewhere if there is no room at the Hancock County jail.
Gazarek said he wasn’t aware of the first complaint, but thinks charging for a full day, no matter the time of admittance, is fair.
“Booking someone into jail is a multiple-hour task. It’s a minimum of one day just to cover your processing,” he said.
Joseph Hartman, jail operations lieutenant, said getting a new inmate into a cell can take less than an hour, or several hours. Many factors can influence the length of time needed, he said.
For instance, the jail computer system may not be functioning optimally, there may be a line of others waiting to be booked who just were arrested and haven’t yet been to court, or there may be inmates who must be released and therefore get priority.
Findlay inmates can be transported to the Putnam County jail in Ottawa, which usually has space, or elsewhere when the Hancock County lockup is overcrowded. But it comes at a price, and no parameters have been set for when that should happen or who should do the driving.
Putnam County Sheriff Michael Chandler said in the past, the two counties had a contract. He said discussions have been held in the past year about another agreement, but nothing has been signed.
“We just haven’t gotten around to doing one (contract),” Chandler said. “We’ve got room. If they need us to hold somebody, we do hold for them.”
Hancock County jail fiscal officer Rebecca Smith said inmates haven’t been transported to Putnam County since 2007. Hancock County Sheriff Michael Heldman said money was budgeted for it in 2008, but the Great Recession commenced and the county hasn’t transported since.
The Putnam County jail isn’t the only option.
“If they (city) want us to take prisoners three, four, five hours away, we can do that,” Gazarek said. “But they’re (city) not willing to pick up the cost.”
Meanwhile, the county doesn’t plan to budge on its proposed contract, Gazarek said. Jail fees had not been raised in 25 years.
The county has not yet formally confronted the city about its nonpayment. Gazarek said he thinks the county has been “more than generous” to Findlay.
“The city has not paid us at all, for multiple months, even though council on March 4 unanimously voted 10-0 to pay the new fee,” Gazarek said.
What happens if the city continues to not pay?
“That’s a great question,” Gazarek said. “We’ve been patient for more than two months. We’ve not had a jail fee increase for the past 25 years. Now all of a sudden it (contract) doesn’t work for them? I find that interesting.”