MIAMI — Ottawa County is not alone in its issues with its jail, according to Ed Crone, Grand Gateway Economic Development Association executive director.
Crone spoke at the Monday, Jan. 6, meeting of the Ottawa County Commissioners, where a standing-room-only crowd pushed for answers in the myriad of problems facing Sheriff Jeremy Floyd.
“It is not,” Crone said by phone Tuesday morning. “If you have heard anything about Nowata (county), I have been there literally once a week for the last eight months trying to help them. Their problem literally started when the state (Department of Corrections) started pulling prisoners out of the jails, because that was what was financing the local jail efforts.”
In Ottawa County, salary overruns — the payroll recently has been $83,000, an overrun of $6,000 a month more than budgeted — have been complicated by an October electrical fire that forced all inmates to be moved elsewhere. The Ottawa County facility jail still is closed because of several problems.
Nowata County has had a handful of different sheriffs in about a 2½-year span because “they keep getting appointed and resign when they find out it’s an impossible job, Crone said.
To properly fund the Nowata County Jail according to state statutes, it costs about $800,000 a year — and the county has budgeted $950,000 for salaries.
Crone has been meeting with legislators in an attempt to alleviate the problem for not just Nowata County, but most of the others in Grand Gateway’s membership area — Ottawa, Delaware, Craig, Nowata, Mayes, Rogers and Washington counties.
“There’s a discussion about the possibility of the state — it’s a long shot and it takes a long time — about possibly them (the state) running the regional jails and just letting the sheriffs get back to police duties.
“The truth is, in all the counties probably under 30 or 35,000 (population), the sheriff’s office doesn't do police, they just run the jail. I’ve heard it spoken, not in Ottawa County, but in other counties, that, to tell the sheriff ‘you are constitutionally required to have a jail, you are not constitutionally required to go out on the roads’ — this is the fight in Nowata County.”
The jail in Nowata had to be closed down because of a carbon monoxide leak that send four employees to an emergency room early last year.
The Ottawa County jail had to be shut down in October because of an electrical fire. All of the inmates had to be relocated.
“With that little fire, it did $1,500 worth of damage, but they found another, maybe up to $100,000 in improvements with the Johnson Controls, the fire system and all of that they have to do,” Crone said. “But they are spending $70 a day on prisoners. It probably costs them maybe $25 (a day) when they are there.
“There is no rubber in their system; they don’t have extra money. They don’t have insurance to cover shipping those prisoners.”
Crone said any extra money Floyd might have had was gobbled up transporting prisoners first to Tulsa County and then Craig and Delaware counties.
He said Nowata County officials have been calling Ottawa County Commissioner Russell Earls for advice.
“I found out Craig County was having the same type problems, probably not to the extreme that the fire caused,” Crone said. “The jail fire just compounded everything.”
He said there are counties where there is no patrolling done at all. The only thing deputies do is serve warrants, transfer prisoners to court cases and other essentials.
“It’s a Catch 22 and the fire just killed them,” Crone said. “There was so much misinformation going around, it panics people. I am pretty confident if Jeremy can work with the commissioners and get through these cuts to get them out of the rest of the year, they will figure it out. That commission is probably my best (to work with).”
Crone said five of the counties in Grand Gateway have to conduct fundraisers to help keep jails open.
“Mayes County is in the middle of a stress, but Nowata, Craig, Ottawa, Delaware, and Craig are having more extreme problems,” he said. “Mayes County goes back and forth because of the Google facility. Washington County is pretty stable and so is Rogers County.”