JEFFERSON — County Commissioners said they will continue to focus on a number of projects throughout the rest of the year, first and foremost efforts to construct a new county jail.
In the coming months voters will be tasked with deciding whether to fund a new county jail, which the commissioners have been dubbing the community corrections rehabilitation center.
According to a report released at the end of last year by Strollo Architects, Inc., the county will likely need to spend anywhere from $30 million to $38 million to either add on to the existing justice center in the parking lot area, or build an entirely new complex on an as-of-yet determined piece of property to house the jail and sheriff’s office.
Though changes at the state level in regards to sending fourth- and fifth-degree felony offenders to county jail rather than state prison, as well as ongoing substance abuse issues within the county, have resulted in overcrowding, officials have said the jail is also inefficient.
A new jail could have 290 beds, with 62 being specialized for mental health, medical or substance abuse crises. Architectural firm K2M Design, Inc. received an almost $600,000 contract to provide design services and thoroughly vet potential locations.
Commissioner Casey Kozlowski said K2M Design should have a final report prepared this month, which will represent a “culmination of years of work.”
There will be many details about the project that will come with the release of this report, Kozlowski said. There will also be numerous public meetings throughout the rest of the year regarding the project.
“This will provide information on the location, cost of the facility, cost to operate the facility and also renderings of what it will look like on the inside and outside,” he said.
County residents should soon have a chance to get rid of any junk that a garbage collector won’t pick up. Details are being ironed out for a Hazardous Waste Collection Day this fall.
“This will be an opportunity for residents to get rid of bulbs and batteries, paint and things like that,” Kozlowski said.
Another visible project residents will see in the community will be the improvements to the grandstand at the Ashtabula County fairgrounds. With a quarter-million dollars that Kozlowski said was secured through the last state capital budget, residents should be able to enjoy them at this year’s fair.
Regional sewer studies
Commissioners have been exploring a regional sewer district with several entities within the county that currently operate their own sewer districts.
Officials have said that when the city of Ashtabula announced they were going to look at offers for their wastewater treatment plant it spurred discussion about a district because the county shares infrastructure with the city.
A regional sewer district could incorporate not only the city’s and county’s assets, but could also entail a “collaborative effort” with other entities.
Rather than competing against one another over a limited number of qualified job applicants and a limited pool of resources, the idea is for the county and other entities to work together.
J.P. Ducro, president of the Board of County Commissioners, said the Ashtabula County Department of Environmental Services, along with Director Nick Sanford, are working with attorneys regarding the potential project.
“They should be connecting with Ashtabula city very soon to explore some options with them,” Ducro said. “But we’ve also had some other communities express an interest in regionalization. We will pursue these as they come up.”
Commissioners have said this is not an attempt by the county to take over smaller entities’ operations, and if anything were to ever move forward, the county would have to divest interest in its own water and wastewater assets.
Emergency operations center
Several years ago commissioners tabled discussion of a new location for the county’s emergency operations center, currently located in the basement of the existing justice center.
But earlier this year commissioners purchased the Growth Partnership building for $337,000 and will soon set up shop there. An additional $250,000 is being sought through a First Energy grant and $150,000 is being sought through the state capital budget as a way to pay for things like security fencing, electrical and IT work.
Bringing more reliable and stronger high-speed internet to rural parts of the county will be something commissioners continue to look at.
Commissioners will seek grant funding for planning and infrastructure, Ducro said. Officials are aware there is a need, especially Commissioner Kathryn Whittington who lives in an area with no internet service.
There are efforts underway to bring broadband to the airport, which Ducro said if successful could be a jumping off point for more development in that area. The bigger goal, however, is to address a lack of reliable internet throughout the entire county.
“Right now I think the goal is to find a good planning grant that we can apply for so we can come up with a more coordinated plan as opposed to just trying to grab infrastructure money and shotgun approach it,” Ducro said.
Whittington said she was recently in Columbus to testify about the internet issue in Ashtabula County, something she plans to continue doing.
“We’re still advocating for better broadband,” Whittington said.
Drug Task Force
The Trumbull Ashtabula Group Task Force was dissolved this summer, replaced by the Crime Enforcement Agency of Ashtabula County, which officials are pronouncing “cease.”
The task force will consist of members of the sheriff’s office and Ashtabula, Geneva and Conneaut police departments, who along with assistance from the FBI, will continue to investigate drug crimes, gangs, firearms, drug traffickers and homeland security issues.
Whittington, who worked with local law enforcement on the creation of the new county-centric task force, said she is proud to have played a “critical role” in the formation.
There will be eight officers from Ashtabula County as opposed to two under TAG, and Whittington said the community will see results from the work.
Commander Greg Leonhard has said he expects weekly warrants to be executed.
“Multiple jurisdictions have put into this task force with the buy in and dedication of officers,” Whittington said. “The collaboration is huge.”