Commissioners grilled about Oakhill and jail

Officials said Oakhill expenses are about $32,000 per month.
DAMASCUS -- When Mahoning County commissioners brought their meeting to Goshen Township, residents had plenty of questions.
Commissioners met Tuesday night at the township community building, and some residents and the trustees questioned commissioners and Administrator George Tablack about the plans for Oakhill Renaissance Place and the operation of the county jail.
Tablack said he is beginning to get a clearer picture of the daily expenses at Oakhill under current conditions. He said the newly formed building commission has met once, and an architect for Oakhill should be on board in about three weeks.
County are providing security for Oakhill. The county took over operations and security from Sodexho Associates Inc. of Wexford, Pa., last week, saving $8,500 per week.
The commissioners also hired two men from Sodexho to become county employees working in the county's facilities management department: Donald Deans, an artisan, who will continue to work at Oakhill; and Kurt Bucheit, Sodexho's Oakhill building manager, who will assist the county with all facilities.
Tablack said one of his first instructions to Bucheit as a county employee was to provide utility and maintenance costs for Oakhill, which is the former Forum Health Southside Medical Center.
Tablack said with the bills he has seen so far, the cost is about $32,000 per month, but in transition, are subject to change -- sometimes daily.
Sodexho had provided management, maintenance and security for Oakhill under its previous owner, the nonprofit Southside Community Development Corp., which filed for Chapter 7 liquidation bankruptcy May 3.
The county bought the building for $75,000 in an arrangement approved last month by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kay Woods. The building has nine tenants, including the Youngstown Health Department and the county coroner's office.
What else
Tablack and commissioners also answered residents' questions about staffing and costs at the jail.
Tablack said county governments across the nation are having trouble with county jail space.
Commissioners said they want to work out a plan for the jail because they don't want to be the only county in the United States with three federal judges managing jail operations.
Tablack noted the importance of sales tax revenue in funding jail operations. He said the county lost about $45 million in sales tax revenue since the tax was first put to voters in 1996 because it was repealed time and again during the period, at a loss of $4.5 million per year.
Asked about the progress on a merger of 911 center operations, Tablack said county and city officials are working on the jail overcrowding problem, and developing a cooperative effort he hopes will carry into tackling other shared concerns such as 911 call centers and public transportation.
"We first have to agree on how to run the jail, which is a real budget buster," Tablack said. Explaining the process of tackling several projects at the same time, Tablack said, "There's the old saying that you eat an elephant one bite at a time. We're trying to eat two elephants."
Commissioners set the next meeting for 5 p.m. Sept. 13 at Austintown Township Hall, 82 Ohltown Road.

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