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Putnam County gets state funding for jail

OTTAWA, Ohio - For 20 years, Putnam County commissioners have been talking about building a jail to replace their century-old lock-up. Next year, they may actually break ground.

Putnam County was awarded $2.66 million this week from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to build a 76-bed jail that is expected to take care of its need to house prisoners for decades.

What has to be determined is how the county will pay for the balance of the project.

The jail is projected to cost about $4.6 million to build, and an adjacent sheriff's office would cost about $1 million.

In addition to the state grant, commissioners have set aside about $900,000 in recent years in a jail construction fund.

Judge Randall Basinger of Common Pleas Court said yesterday that officials hope to ``minimize any additional tax, if at all,'' to pay for the project, although one of the options under consideration is a 0.25 percent increase in the county's 6 per cent sales tax. The increase would generate about $500,000 a year.

The judge would not say whether he felt a sales tax increase would be necessary.

“Our finance committee has indicated to us there may have to be an additional source of revenue for construction and/or operation,” Judge Basinger said. ``I think that the final answer to that remains in a future report and a re-examination of the county's fiscal status.”

Incoming Sheriff James Beutler said the new operation clearly will require more staff, though it has not been determined how many positions will be added.

He described the new jail as a one-story, pie-shaped building that would have a central control area, cells for men and women, and rooms for equipment, training, and other luxuries the sheriff's office has never had.

“That's what we're really excited about. We're really going to have a modern facility to work out of rather than a 100-year-old facility that's not real conducive to today's times,'' said Mr. Beutler, who was named a chief deputy by Sheriff Ron Diemer this month. He takes office Jan. 1.

The sheriff and detectives are housed in a building separate from the old jail. The lock-up, which legally holds 15 men, has fared miserably on state inspections for years. The county made some security and fire protection improvements in the early 1980s after a legal services agency filed a class action lawsuit in federal court claiming conditions at the jail constituted cruel and unusual punishment.

Judge Basinger said the cost of housing prisoners in out-of-county jails has grown every year. The county figures it will have spent about $250,000 to house prisoners out of county in 2000.

Chief Deputy Beutler said that sum does not include the time deputies spend transporting prisoners, wear and tear on county vehicles, and overtime costs. Most prisoners who cannot be housed in Putnam County are taken to the Van Wert County jail, about 45 miles from Ottawa.

Judge Basinger said that if all goes well, construction should begin in November and take about 12 months to complete. He said the considerably larger facility should allow the courts the ability to detain more individuals for longer periods.

“The lack of jail space has affected some of the judicial decisions concerning bond and length of sentences,” he said. Currently, a defendant might receive “30 days instead of 45. It might be three months instead of four.”

While Putnam County at one time had discussed the possibility of building a two-county lock-up with neighboring Paulding County, the judge said it remains to be seen whether Putnam County could possibly rent beds to its neighbors. “We're not in the prisoner housing business, but if we come to that point, that's a possibility,” he said.

In addition to Putnam County, Sandusky County received $201,000 from the state to renovate its old jail. That building will be used for office space and storage.

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