Ohio Bill Improves Jail Construction Funding

ATHENS, Ohio — A bill designed to improve the funding process for upgrades to Ohio’s regional jails has cleared both the House and Senate. Senate Bill (SB) 82, co-sponsored by State Senators Troy Balderson (R-Zanesville) and Lou Gentile (D-Steubenville), is now en route to Gov. John Kasich.

The Ohio Legislature first allowed counties to join together to establish regional jails in 1979, creating a more efficient and cost effective way for counties to construct, maintain and operate jails. In their joint SB 82 testimony, Senators Balderson and Gentile noted that all four regional jails built as a result of this move were constructed during the 1990s with state grants, but “are now at a stage where significant acquisition, construction, repair, enlargement and modification issues must be addressed.”

According to the state’s existing code, the Regional Jail Commission is responsible for management, maintenance, operation, occupation, repair and administration of regional facilities, and annually receives operational funds. However, the original code did not allow the commission to borrow money as a separate legal entity, forcing one or more of the individual counties involved to serve as the borrower, a move many rural counties cannot afford.

This funding issue first came to light in 2013 when Athens Co. officials pointed out that regional jails were ill equipped to pay for for repairs and improvements, as they were not able to issue bond funding. In their own testimony, Balderson and Gentile pointed to the Corrections Commission of Southeastern Ohio in particular, which they wrote currently needs — but does not have the funds to pay for — a roof replacement, chiller replacement and parking lot maintenance totaling nearly $500,000. The senators noted that this issue was “clearly an unintended result of original legislation.”

However, the passage of SB 82 will now give regional jails the ability to borrow funds for capital improvements in a manner that Balderson and Gentile write, “is typical for political subdivisions.” The senators also stressed that there was no apparent downside to the bill, as the money borrowed will be from private sector financial institutions and not the state.

SB 82 received wide bipartisan support. According to an October 2013 release, Senator Gentile remarked, “There were five hearings on Senate Bill 82 and no opposition came forward.” According to the senator multiple state groups also supported the bill, including the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, The Corrections Commission of Southeastern Ohio, and Commissioners representing Morgan, Perry, Athens, Vinton and Hocking counties.