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TRUMBULL JAIL County foots higher bill for supplies, records show



Published: Sun, September 22, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



A jail official was shocked to learn the county was paying $8 a can for glass cleaner.

By STEPHEN SIFF and PEGGY SINKOVICH

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

WARREN -- Keeping criminals clean comes at a cost. In Trumbull County, that cost seems especially high.

Trumbull taxpayers have spent much more for jail janitorial supplies than have taxpayers in other counties, even those with much larger jails, records from county auditors offices show.

Trumbull County has paid about 10 times as much for such items as floor wax, bleach and toilet paper than Portage County, which has a jail about half the size.

And the $138,000 janitorial supply bill for Trumbull County's jail in 2001 was more than double the $55,000 tab for Mahoning County's jails, which hold twice as many prisoners.

Mahoning County buys jail janitorial supplies through the state purchasing program, which Trumbull County Commissioners Joseph J. Angelo Jr. and James Tsagaris have criticized as being too expensive.

"I'm shocked," said Ernest Cook, chief deputy for the Trumbull County Sheriff's Department, after reviewing the expenditure records.

Controlling funds

Funds used to buy janitorial supplies are under the control of the county maintenance department, he said.

The county has been buying the same types of supplies from several vendors.

"It definitely needs to be reviewed, that is for sure," Cook said, after his cursory review found that the county paid EnviroChemical Inc. of Bedford Heights, $8 a can for glass cleaner.

"It just seems like a lot," Cook said. He said he brought the matter to the attention of county prosecutors.

Officials from EnviroChemical Inc. could not be reached and Prosecutor Dennis Watkins won't comment while the matter is under review.

Watkins has suggested county commissioners relieve the maintenance department from any responsibility for ordering supplies and assign the job to Roselyn Ferris, the county clerk and administrator.

Commissioner Michael O'Brien said he's in favor of that proposal, which may be acted upon Monday.

He declined to say why the responsibility for ordering wouldn't be assigned to Anthony Carson Jr., the county's director of purchasing.

Order given

In the past few weeks, commissioners have ordered the maintenance department to stop doing business with three vendors, Lid Chem, Tri County Supplies and Central Service and Supply.

Watkins has told commissioners those three companies have refused to cooperate with a probe by his office.

The businesses refused to produce records that would have proved they actually delivered supplies paid by the county, officials say.

Watkins, meanwhile, has added two more names to the list of companies under investigation: Kinzua Environmental and Envirochemical, both of Cleveland.

Although commissioners must approve payment to each vendor before it is sent, they do not indicate exactly what is being purchased, O'Brien said.

"We rely on the department heads to make the right decisions," he said.

Beside the maintenance department, he said, he knows of no examples of bad spending

"We are going to be talking to all department heads on spending habits," O'Brien said.

Taking responsibility

Maintenance department director Tony Delmont said he takes responsibility for his department's practices.

"I'm not going to blame anyone else for it," he said. "It is my job."

Delmont said he can't explain how other counties spend less on cleaning supplies.

"I don't know," Delmont said.

He said he has not been interviewed by the county prosecutors, Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation officers or FBI agents that are investigating his department, although he is aware of others who have.

None of the companies Watkins has told commissioners he is investigating were awarded contracts through formal bidding, although each did more than $15,000 worth of business a year with the county.

The $15,000 figure is the threshold for competitive bidding, according to the prosecutor's office.

Delmont said his understanding is that as long as spending on a particular product, like toilet paper, from a particular company is less than $15,000, no bids are necessary.

In the wake of Vindicator stories about the county's buying habits, commissioners recently ordered the maintenance department to buy all supplies through the state purchasing program.

The state purchasing program allows counties to buy items from a vendor selected by the Ohio Department of Administrative Services through competitive bidding.

Using the program relieves a county of the obligation to go out to bid.




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