MIAMI — Ottawa County commissioners heard updates on the condition of the jail here Tuesday as cleanup and repairs are under way.
An electrical fire closed the facility Oct. 19, requiring the transfer of 97 male and female inmates to the Tulsa County jail.
Ottawa County is now being assessed the daily costs to house inmates from here after the Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma (ACCO), the insurance provider, stopped accepting any additional claims associated with the fire on Nov. 8.
While the inmate count for Ottawa County inmates being housed in Tulsa is now down to 67, at $69 per inmate per day that runs $4,623 a day, or approximately $138,690 a month, that will be owed to Tulsa County.
Understandably, county officials here are anxious to get the repairs and upgrades required to meet code completed as soon as possible so that they can bring the inmates back and end the skyrocketing costs associated with their being housed elsewhere.
Unfortunately, one thing is standing in the way of progress: a lack of funds.
And there’s also the matter of the roof at the jail leaking badly.
It continues to leak heavily during every rain and must be replaced. The leaking has caused an issue with black mold in the jail that will have to be remediated. More expense.
Sheriff Jeremy Floyd posted a video to his Facebook page last week of a leak in his offices coming in from around a light fixture.
In the post, Floyd said, “I wanted to show the people of the county what I’m up against. This section is in the front office of the Sheriff’s Office. I have been pushing for a new roof since I’ve been in office. As you can see, it’s running out from a light fixture! This is just one of the deficiencies that we at the Sheriff’s Office are up against.”
Undersheriff Dan Cook said that Floyd has a company coming to next week’s commissioners’ meeting to give a report on their findings regarding the jail roof and the core samples they took and have evaluated.
Cook also told commissioners that there are a lot of other faults to be worked out, including 37 sprinkler heads in the fire suppression system that are either missing, oxidized, or damaged, and multiple smoke alarms that have been damaged or removed by inmates.
The quote Cook received for that work alone came in at $27,000.
All of those items have to be replaced before inspectors and fire marshals will allow the jail to reopen.
And, while the electrical system has been temporarily repaired, it will need a permanent solution, according to Cook.
“We are trying to get things done to get the jail open again. That’s our top priority, but we are over a barrel. The state inspector will only come back when the necessary and required repairs are made,” Cook said.
Commissioner Mike Furnas said, “What is the time frame? Now is not the time to do nothing.”
Cook said the time frame depends on several factors, to which commissioner Russell Earls replied, “The repairs have already been delayed too long.”
District Attorney Kenny Wright asked, “You’ve got things to take care of, but where will the money come from?”
Treasurer Kathy Bowling said the commissioners recently approved the transfer of $600,000 from the highway fund to the general fund to cover expenses, but that money has to be re-deposited within the fiscal year, which means by June 30, 2020.
Her tallies indicate that when the $600,000 is paid back into the highway fund there will be $332,000 left in the general fund and that is money that is already budgeted for use by multiple county departments. So, in essence, there is no money available.
“We don’t have money to spend elsewhere. It will be hard just to meet the regular monthly apportionments as it is,” Bowling said.
County Purchasing Agent Natasha Mays said, “There is barely enough in the county’s general fund to get by as it is.”
And that is where the dilemma lies. The budget woes already being experienced by the county have been made so much worse by the latest developments.
Earls said, “We have to get the prisoners back or we are just burning money. We are bleeding ourselves dry.”