LOGAN — The Hocking County Sheriff’s Office met with the Hocking County Board of Commissioners Thursday morning to announce its plans to apply for a $14.7 million grant to remodel the former Hocking Correctional Facility into what will become the Hocking County Jail and Treatment Center in Ward Township, near Nelsonville.
The grant should cover renovation and basic operations costs, Hocking County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy of Operations Caleb Moritz told the commissioners.
The first-of-its-kind project has been in the works for years. The county officially announced that it was entering into a lease with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction for the repurposing of the former Hocking Correctional Facility, The Logan Daily News reported in 2018.
The county will now own the facility, Moritz explained. “We will actually become the owners of the facility that we will run,” he said. Moritz also recognized other collaborators on the project.
“We had, obviously, support from the coalition of the Appalachian Recovery Project who’ve been with us for what seems like a very long time now,” Moritz said. “Judge Moses has always supported this project, and DS Architecture – it helped us come up with the numbers and the figures that we needed, and that’s the architecture firm that we’ve been using the entire process, and they’ve been very helpful in this grant application as well.”
Hocking County Municipal Court Judge Frederick Moses expressed his hope and excitement for the project, stating that added incarceration space will be helpful for the county. “It’s a really big deal,” he said.
Commissioner Gary Waugh agreed and commended the project.
“This is a big deal; it’s huge,” Waugh said. “I hope the public recognizes, first and foremost, all that’s going into getting this... The work is amazing and this is a big step for Hocking County – and actually, it’s a big step for the region. Because all these contiguous counties, they’re looking for jail space; they’re just chomping at the bit because they have – we’ve talked to people (who) have stacks of warrants that they can’t process, because they don’t have any place to put them.”
Mortiz said the facility will likely employ upwards of 100 people. Judge Moses remarked that the hiring process may be difficult, given how competitive pay is in Columbus.
“We’re changing federal grants to give people forgiveness of loans and those kinds of things that they have to help incentivize people to come here, or stay in the region as opposed to leaving,” Moses said. It is the first facility of its kind in the country, he added.
Another topic the commissioners addressed on Thursday was a series of anonymous letters online publication Logan-Hocking Times and former Logan Daily News editor Deb Tobin has received since March.
The letters concern goings-on in Haydenville – everything from complaints about sewer disposal to requests for investigations. The letters are riddled with grammatical errors and show a poor understanding of the law, Hocking County Prosecutor Ryan Black said.
The letters have also been sent to state agencies, such as the Ohio Ethics Commission and Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, among others, Tobin said. One letter, sent in May, was nine pages long. The letters also focus on a Hocking County hot topic: zoning and nuisances.
The Logan Daily News previously reported that the commissioners addressed these countywide issues during their Thursday, June 3 meeting. Following the meeting, Hocking County Regional Planning Office Director Audie Wykle did some research to see what the county could do.
Wykle updated the commissioners on his findings Thursday:
“When we talked last Thursday about researching (potentially) an ordinance that could be (adopted), I could not find anything unless there’s something under 3767,” Wykle said, referring to Ohio Revised Code. “I could not find anything that was accepted. (It) would be a matter of either establishing zoning and perhaps, which we all know what that is, and then the other thing would be perhaps establishing a building permit system. But that would require a department with an inspector and adopting a building code – and the law from a couple years ago says you have to adopt the minimum Ohio basic building code, and then it has to be enforced... I’ve never been able to find anything, unless there’s something under here that our prosecutor can advise us on that’s a simple ordinance to pass, to be adopted by the county.”
In the interim, Black’s recommendation for individuals who feel “aggrieved” and want to take immediate action toward nuisance properties is to consult with a local attorney to see if there’s anything they could privately file to achieve an effective result, perhaps even quicker than county procedure.
“There’s nothing in the statute that prohibits a private citizen from filing a nuisance order,” Black said.
The commissioners expressed again that their hands are tied.
“I’ve said many times before and I’ll say it many times to come: if we had the influence and the authority – if we had half – not even half, a tenth – of what people think we have, it’d be amazing, and really, really easy to do this job,” Board President Jeff Dickerson said.
Commissioners Dickerson and Ogle added that they will not answer calls or letters that lack identification.
“I’m hoping the person that wrote this is watching (on) Facebook — your meeting today — and will come forward and talk to somebody besides sending anonymous letters to me,” Tobin said.
The commissioners also heard from Hocking Athens Perry Community Action (HAPCAP) Community Development Coordinator Nathan Simons on Thursday. Simons addressed the board about applying for the 2021 Community Development Block Grant, or CDBG.
“(It’s a) critical infrastructure grant to deal with some sewer issues on West Street,” Simons said. “The county has provided $50,000 in allocation matching our allocation towards that competitive grant. And then we’re going to do some parking facility improvements for Scenic Hills (Senior Center’s) new facility — so nice tidy package there, and then of course the local theater group is the (alternative) for that $50k in case the (critical infrastructure) does not get funded.”
During the commissioners’ Tuesday meeting, the board also signed off on a grant for the Hocking County Court of Common Pleas to create its own probation department.
Commissioner Ogle also read the Hocking County Dog Warden’s May monthly report on Tuesday. There were a total 30 incoming dogs: 11 strays were picked up, 12 were brought in and seven dogs were owner-surrenders. There were a total 32 outgoing dogs: 10 were returned to owners, 16 were adopted-out, three went to rescue groups, one was placed for tag fees and two were euthanized.
The warden also collected $225 in miscellaneous fees and conducted six investigations into animal bites, two into animal cruelty, two into livestock violations, two into dog tag violations and four into other violations; and issued four citations.
The next commissioners meeting will be Tuesday, June 15 at 9:30 a.m. in the Commissioners Chambers in the Hocking County Courthouse, 1 E. Main St. Meetings are open to the public and livestreamed on Facebook at www.facebook.com/HockingCommissioners/.
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