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Published: Friday, 4/2/2004

Hancock will send 10 inmates to Putnam

FINDLAY - Ten inmates at the crowded Hancock County jail were to be moved to the Putnam County jail after county commissioners approved a 30-day contract with Putnam County yesterday.

Commissioners had considered a three-month contract earlier this week, but Commissioner Steve Oman said Sheriff Mike Heldman will have to come back to the board to extend the contract after 30 days.

"It just comes down basically to accountability, and the commissioners feel we deserve the accountability of what's going on," Mr. Oman said. "If you look at the budget of the sheriff, he's approaching probably close to $1 million more than he had a year ago."

Last year Hancock County voters approved a two-year, 0.25 percent increase in the county sales tax Officials said it was needed to prevent layoffs at the sheriff's office, a reduction of road patrols, and the closure of a wing at the jail.

Unappropriated money from that account will be used to rent the $45-a-day bed space in Putnam County, according to Sheriff Heldman. Commissioners approved spending up to $13,500 for the additional beds. That would pay for 10 inmates for 30 days.

Sheriff Heldman said he will no doubt be before commissioners again in a month to extend the Putnam County arrangement because the crowding situation is not likely to change.

"They have somewhat restricted us and tied our hands in being able to move people," he said. "Most of these people incarcerated in our jail are felons, and they're still going to be there in 90 days because of the [judicial] process. You don't get rid of these people in a week or two weeks and ship them out to prison, and if they get time in our jail, that's going to lengthen it even more."

The jail, which has a capacity of 98, had 118 inmates yesterday. The sheriff said he has had to put inmates in holding calls and medical cells and, once those are full, on plastic bunks in the recreation area.

Sheriff Heldman expected to move 10 inmates to Putnam County by late yesterday afternoon; they were serving jail sentences for misdemeanors or low-level felonies.

The sheriff called the contract with Putnam County a short-term solution to a problem that's not going to go away.

"A long-term solution is going to have to be building additional jail space some time in the future," Sheriff Heldman said. "With the county's financial situation, we're probably looking three to five years down the road."

Yesterday commissioners agreed to allocate $100,000 to the Hancock County Department of Job and Family Services for its foster care program.

Director Steve Thomas told commissioners the department may need as much as $315,000 to see it through the end of the year. He cited the weaker economy, reduced state and federal funds, and an increase in eligible children.

Mr. Thomas said it costs from $30 to $300 a day to have a child in foster care.

Commissioners agreed to review the program's financial needs on a quarterly basis.



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