By JIM MAURER

STAFF WRITER

Hancock County officials will be seeking state funds to help the county solve its jail overcrowding problem.

They aren’t the only ones.

County Commissioner Mark Gazarek presented a letter from the County Commissioners Association of Ohio on Tuesday, which stated Hancock County was one of 58 counties which submitted a request for state capital funds.

“The responses from our counties documented project costs, for construction, expansion, renovation and repair of county jail facilities exceed $1.3 billion statewide,” the association stated.

Gazarek said that figure doesn’t include the cost for additional staff to service larger jails.

The association urged the counties to send letters of support for “restoration of a state capital funding program” earmarked for jail improvements to Gov. Mike DeWine and state legislators.

“… Gov. Mike DeWine indicated that he was aware that some counties have huge jail problems, and his administration would be looking at the issue and try to get help for them. The governor’s comments indicate that he is listening to county concerns about jail funding and is considering options to provide assistance.”

Hancock County has been working with a jail consultant, M.J. Martin, based in Lincoln, Nebraska, on a study to determine if renovation or new construction would be the best route. A renovation project providing 125-150 additional beds is estimated to cost $10-$15 million, and new construction would cost millions more.

Jail expansion would not only provide additional space, but it would also reconfigure jail operations to service inmates with physical and mental conditions which require additional treatment. Programs and activities would be provided to benefit inmates in an effort to keep them from a returning to jail.

The existing jail holds 98 inmates, and prisoners have to be sent to other county jails across the state. Jail overcrowding has been attributed to the opioid epidemic and the state’s decision to have counties house some non-violent individuals convicted of felonies. Housing those individuals locally reduces the inmate population in state prisons. There is also a backlog of area individuals waiting to serve prison time.

Additionally, the county has spent more than $1 million on maintenance projects at the jail to conform with state regulations.

Separately, the commissioners approved about $6,296 to Maumee Watershed Conservancy District for December expenses and about $177,460 to Helms and Sons Excavating and Construction for work done on the Blanchard River widening “benching” project.

Maurer: 419-427-8420

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