By JIM MAURER
A report from the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office indicates “the need for more jail space is real,” county Commissioner Tim Bechtol said at Tuesday’s commissioners meeting.
The commissioners discussed the two sales tax issues which will be on the Nov. 7 ballot, including one to finance a jail expansion. That issue, a 0.25 percent, 20-year sales tax, would pay for expanding and operating the jail, and constructing a county office building.
The other issue is a 0.25 percent, 10-year tax to continue flood-reduction efforts.
According to the report compiled by Sheriff Michael Heldman’s office, the county has spent $219,745 on housing local prisoners in jails in Putnam and Wood counties through July 31 of this year. And beginning Aug. 7, the sheriff’s office is also housing prisoners in Van Wert County jail because the other two jails do not have enough space. The Hancock County jail is filled to capacity.
In 2016, the county spent $144,625 and in 2015, $9,125 to house prisoners in other jails.
Prior to November 2015, Hancock County had not used a jail outside the county to house prisoners since 2009, according to the report.
In addition, the county has spent $13,138 to transport prisoners to and from area jails.
Commissioner President Mark Gazarek said the sales tax issue is more than just construction. It is about funding multiple departments that are potentially involved in the arrest of a heroin user, for instance, he said.
The increase in the number of indictments and arrests this year is impacting county finances, Gazarek said.
For individuals who feel an estimated $1.2 million renovation of the 152-year-old probate/juvenile court building would be a better alternative to new construction, Commissioner Brian Robertson said, “It is not prudent to put money into an … old building.”
The idea of a jail expansion is not new, Robertson said.
A committee formed to consider a jail expansion has sent a letter to the commissioners requesting the group be re-formed so discussions can continue. The committee includes a cross-section of city and county officials.
If approved by voters, each of the 0.25 percent sales tax requests would generate about $3.5 million annually.
Earlier this month, the commissioners imposed a third 0.25 percent sales tax for ongoing general operation of various county departments. That tax will go into effect Jan. 1.
The county now collects a 0.50 percent, 10-year sales tax which will expire at year-end 2018. Half of the revenue goes to general operations and the other goes to flood-reduction efforts.
The commissioners have said they will repeal 0.25 percent of the tax, effective Jan. 1. The remainder of the tax will be repealed by April 1 if the 10-year sales tax for flood control is approved by voters in November. If the 10-year tax is not approved, the current 0.25 percent tax would continue through next year.
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