The City of Toledo likely prevented a shutdown of the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio in Stryker last week by scraping together most of a fourth-quarter payment it owed the facility but claimed it couldn’t afford.
However, a year-long dispute between the city and Lucas County over which is responsible for footing their contracted shares of CCNO’s operating costs remains unresolved. That uncertainty could cause a similar crisis in January, which would again threaten the availability of 55 inmate beds Fulton County reserves at the facility.
Last Thursday, Toledo met an arrangement with CCNO to pay $1.09 million of the city’s nearly $1.4 million quarterly payment through its general fund. The city agreed to try to pay the remainder by Dec. 13, the day funding will dry up from the partial payment.
The correction center’s board of directors was scheduled to vote on the arrangement Friday in Napoleon.
Toledo’s dilemma was sparked by former Mayor D. Michael Collin’s order to city police last October that all arrests and citations be made under the Ohio Revised Code rather than city ordinance. That placed Toledo’s burden of 35.74 percent of CCNO’s annual budget onto Lucas County, which already is contracted to separately pay the facility over $5 million annually.
The two CCNO members have argued over the responsibility for the past year. Lucas County filed suit against Toledo’s actions, but withdrew the civil complaint three weeks ago because the parties agreed to negotiate a solution.
Dennis Sullivan, CCNO’s director of security and operations, said the situation has proven stressful for the facility’s 200 employees.
“It’s frustrating, because it’s difficult for employees to read every day in the paper that it’s going to run out of money,” he said. “It all comes down to whether the city or county works out the deal. As long as they continue to negotiate and can’t come up with the agreement, unfortunately, CCNO is going to stay in the middle of it.”
Had Toledo not agreed to deliver its share, the combined $2.5 million paid quarterly by CCNO’s other five members would not have sustained the facility beyond Dec. 1, Sullivan said. And the $2.6 million cost to shut down, which includes paid employee leave and unemployment costs, would have left the corrections center $100,000 in the red.
Regardless of Toledo’s switch to ORC regulations, under the city’s municipal code CCNO’s current operational agreement keeps about 90 of the city’s 228 beds “grandfathered” through a clause in their original agreement. In May, the corrections center had modified its operating agreement to include stronger language concerning the members’ responsibility for the beds they originally reserved.
“From CCNO’s standpoint, if you take those beds you’re required to pay for them. And you’re required to take your original allotment,” Sullivan said.
Earlier this year, Toledo announced its intention to withdraw from its CCNO membership in favor of a new city jail. But so far the city hasn’t officially given the facility the required three years’ notice.
Should the Toledo and Lucas County dispute continue into 2016, the city could have problems with its scheduled January payment. In that case, “It’s certainly going to have an impact on all the rural counties” that are CCNO members, Sullivan said. They include Fulton, Henry, Defiance, and Williams counties.
Requests for comment from the City of Toledo Finance Department went unanswered.
As one of six CCNO members, Fulton County is contracted to pay the facility $1.38 million annually, or 8.62 percent of the annual operational budget, for its share of 638 beds.
A failure by Toledo to pay for its beds next quarter would fall under different circumstances. Due to the new year, the 25-year-old corrections center would have more time to arrange employee layoffs, which would save costs. The additional time might also allow for only a partial shutdown, leaving Fulton County the possibility of retaining some of its beds.
County Commissioner Jeff Rupp said if the corrections center had been forced to close the shutdown wouldn’t have been immediate. The county would have had a short period of time to find alternate housing for its prisoners. However, there is reportedly not a corrections facility within 100 miles that could offer beds.
Rupp said there’s a reason the county has no contingency plan to house prisoners. “In the 20 or more years that CCNO has been open this is the first time this potential situation has come up,” he said. “I think this will be the cause for some policies to be reviewed in the future.”
He personally favors a proposed policy to increase the daily rate members pay for prisoners, permitting a reserve fund to accrue. But he conceded the CCNO board has numerous questions and variables to consider before making decisions.
Sullivan agrees the wrinkle Toledo has created had never before been considered.
“‘Until they get that worked out it appears we’re going to have a few more bumps. We’re being a little optimistic that they’re going to eventually work this out,” he said. “Public safety is at risk. We can’t very well put 638 inmates on the street. They recognize that.”
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.