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Officials seek to justify jail cuts

Published: Wed, March 17, 2010 @ 12:10 a.m.

Conference with US judge is today; tax hike ruled out




It’s not realistic to expect the Mahoning County jail to be maintained at current staffing levels based on downward revenue trends, county officials said.

“We just don’t have the revenue to support the jail at 100 percent as we have the past couple of years,” said Commissioner John A. McNally IV after Tuesday’s commissioners’ meeting.

McNally spoke on the eve of today’s informal, closed-door status conference with U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster in Cleveland concerning the county’s request to lay off one-third of its sheriff’s department personnel and close half the jail March 28 due to its budget woes.

Participating in that conference, which starts at 9 a.m., will be city and county officials and lawyers for inmates who won a class-action lawsuit over jail crowding.

McNally said he hopes all parties leave the conference with a clear understanding of the county’s financial predicament.

“I don’t think we’re going to have any resolution to anything. I don’t think you’re going to have any final answers,” McNally said of the conference.

His observation was confirmed in a notice Judge Polster filed Monday, saying the conference is “informational only” and won’t produce any court action.

“If appropriate, any future action in this case will be taken by the entire three-judge panel” supervising the jail under the consent decree that settled the inmates’ lawsuit, Judge Polster wrote.

The loss of jail income from city and federal inmates and declining income from interest on investments and the county’s sales tax have negatively affected the county’s budget, regardless of whether the half-percent sales tax is renewed May 4, McNally said.

“It is impossible to allocate, with this decline in revenues, the amount of money to keep the jail at full staff without a tax increase,” said county Administrator George J. Tablack. “This is absolutely the wrong time, in this economy, to be proposing a sales-tax increase.”

“There’s not going to be a tax increase. That’s not something the board of commissioners has ever discussed, and we’re not discussing it,” McNally said.

Last week, the county’s budget commission reduced its estimate of this year’s general fund revenues from $57 million to $54 million. General fund revenues were $66 million in 2008 and $57.2 million in 2009.

The Mahoning-Columbiana Training Association’s One Stop office stands ready to provide r sum writing, job re-training and placement assistance to any laid-off sheriff’s department personnel, Bert Cene, MCTA executive director, told the commissioners.

The commissioners’ next meeting will be at 6 p.m. March 24 at the Mahoning County Board of Developmental Disabilities workshop at 825 Bev Road.

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