County gets better deal

LISBON – Columbiana County commissioners are expecting to save $250,000 or so per year by accepting new proposals to operate the county jail in the middle of the existing contract.

Commissioners voted at Thursday’s special meeting to stick with the Community Education Centers (CEC) Inc., the current jail operator, but under a new six-year agreement that will save them at least $250,000 annually.

The savings was made possible by the commissioners’ decision to reopen the bidding process in the middle of its current six-year contract with CEC after another company – Sheffield Arger LLC – asked to submit a proposal to operate the jail. The contract expires Dec. 31, 2015, but gives commissioners the option of extending it every two years during the agreement period, and the deadline to act was today.

“It was an unusual,” Commission Chairman Mike Halleck said of their decision to take proposals in the middle of an existing contract, “but after the board discussed it, we decided it was in the best interest of taxpayers” to allow Sheffield Arger to do so

CEC charges commissioners per day for every inmate housed at the 200-bed jail, and its new proposal was not only significantly less than Sheffield Arger’s bid but lower than what it was charging the county currently and over the last two years of the existing contract had the extension been automatically granted. The result will be a $250,000 annual savings over the next two years.

Commissioner Jim Hoppel said the deal replaces the existing agreement with a new six-year contract that continues to gives commissioners the option of extending the agreement every two years. It also contains a new clause allowing the sides to renegotiate on a new rate next year.

Hoppel repeated comments made the day before in which he said their decision allow Sheffield Arger to submit a proposal was not a reflection of any dissatisfaction with CEC. Just the opposite.

“I’ve been working with these guys for a long time and they’ve always done a good job,” he said.

CEC will continue to pay all of the electric bill even though the jail complex also houses the county sheriff’s office, drug task force, coroner’s office and county records. Officials said this comes to about $90,000 per year.

Starting this year, the CEC will also begin paying for the all of the new water and sewer service to the jail complex, which is expected to cost $40,000 annually.

Hoppel said CEC also helps the county by administering all of the paperwork required for the county to receive Medicaid reimbursement for proving medical treatment to inmates in their care, which has saved the county a total of $800,000 since 2008.

CEC is also donating $500 to help cover the cost of the new drug detection dog recently acquired by the sheriff’s office.

“You guys have been good citizens,” Halleck said.

Mike Caltabiano, senior vice president for CEC, also announced restructuring of the contract will allow them to grant 3 percent pay raises to the 52 jail employees, who, due to the recession, last received an increase in 2008.

“The economy is still not good. There are companies going under left and right,” he said.

The county jail has been operated by CEC and its predecessor, CiviGenics, since 1998, making it the only privately run county jail in Ohio. CEC was paid $3.5 million last year, which Halleck estimated to be about $1 million less than if the county operated the jail.