Town meetings held to share information about new justice center

| September 23, 2021

Sheriff Jim Crawford addresses the attendees of a town meeting that was held at River View High School on Sept. 21. The town meeting was to share important information about a proposed 0.5% sales tax to pay for a new justice center. (Jen Jones)

Town meetings were held at each of the three county high schools to share information about the proposed new justice center and to raise support for the 0.5% sales tax levy that will be placed on the Nov. 2 ballot.

While most people seem to understand that the current facility is outdated and overcrowded, it is not as easily understood how desperate the situation is.  The current building was built in 1972, before the state issued guidelines on jails.  Right now, by state guidelines, the jail can hold 15 inmates. The number of inmates has been more than 70 at times and right now, there are 35. This opens the county up to liability issues if a staff person or inmate gets injured.

Coshocton County Common Pleas Court Judge Bob Batchelor said the county is nearing a critical problem. The county could be found to be “deliberately indifferent” to the situation at the jail. If a federal judge decides this, they could order the county to immediately build a new facility – one that could be twice as expensive as the proposed facility and one where county general fund money would be spent. “A federal judge will take control of our justice center.”

Jail Administrator Chip Udischas shared again the situation at the current facility is a huge liability on the county. Because inmates cannot be safely locked down, fights break out and inmates and deputies are injured. “This adds up to more medical bills.” He also said the courts cannot hand out appropriate sentences because there is nowhere for them to be held. “A new facility will mean less time out of secured areas for the inmates and we will have more ability to control trouble makers.”

Sheriff Jim Crawford said the inmates will have less freedom of movement in the new facility. “Our current facility is not designed for lockdown situations. The new facility we have proposed is not a Hilton Inn – it’s not a Taj Mahal. The inmates are there for a reason. We need a place for the inmates, staff and deputies to be safe. The ability to lockdown will be amazing. The cells will be plain Jane – no TV. They will have the minimum state required recreation time – not the luxury of movement that they have now.”

The proposed justice facility will be located at the former Steel Ceilings location on North Third Street. The location was chosen for several reasons, including the fact that four of the major utilities needed were already at the spot. It is also close to the court and the highway with no schools or churches near it. The location has been cleaned up (local money was not used for that) and is deemed safe. It will also be able to hold 80 inmates and be able to isolate them as needed for safety or medical reasons.

“We have got to get to the right side of jail standards. We can’t continue to be non-compliant – we may not be able to find more funding,” said Crawford. He also shared that he believes Coshocton County will receive grant money for the new facility.

The proposed justice center is 40,000 square feet that could hold up to 126 inmates. The building will have 24 single cells, 24 dual cells (which could be used as singles) and 48 dorm style beds. The site is owned by the Coshocton Port Authority and is almost 16 acres. Only about seven acres will be used for the facility, as some of the lot is in a flood plain.

County Commissioner Gary Fischer said that the recent sale of 400 acres of county owned land for $4.3 million has been dedicated to pay for the administration part of the new facility. The correction part of the facility will cost approximately $24 million dollars.

To pay for the new facility, it was decided to add 0.5% sales tax to the November ballot. This sales tax is only to be used for the construction of the justice facility and will drop off as soon as the loan is repaid. The county commissioners have secured a 25 year loan, but it is hoped that it will not take that long to finish paying for the facility. Grant money has been applied for, also.

A sales tax was chosen instead of a property tax as it will reduce the burden on local residents. Anyone who makes a purchase in the county will be helping to pay for the justice center. Tourism brings about $56 million annually to Coshocton County – a sales tax guarantees part of that money will fund the new facility.  Motor vehicles and outboard motors are not included in this sales tax.

The amount of money per sale breaks down to about 10 cents per $20 purchase or $1 on a $200 purchase.

Sheriff Crawford would like to make it clear that this new facility is for the safety of not only the inmates and deputies, but also the community. There will be rooms for interviews, so privacy issues will no longer be a problem. The parking problem they have at the current facility will be resolved. “I want everyone to know this sales tax will go away as soon as the jail is paid for. And that this is not going to be a fancy place for the inmates. We will be able to lockdown as needed to maintain safety for everyone. If anyone has questions, I welcome them to contact me.”

For more information about the new justice facility, you can visit the Coshocton County Justice Center Facebook page.

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