Butler County receives $1.25M for jail expansion, repair of grandstands at fairgrounds

Butler County was awarded $1.25 million of the state’s capital budget to repair the crumbling grandstands at the fairgrounds and for expanding the medical pod at the jail, but the projects weren’t fully funded.

The governor approved the $53 billion capital projects bill last week and Butler County received the largest award in the southwest Ohio region at $26.8 million for various projects. The largest chunk of $22.9 million is going to Miami University — primarily for the $22.3 million renovation of Bachelor Hall.

The Butler County Fair Board received $750,000 for a $875,000 project to repair the crumbling concrete grandstands at the fairgrounds. Fair Board President Doug Turner said they didn’t know there was a state funding opportunity until County Administrator Judi Boyko informed him and the board is very glad she did.

“It’s very exciting, our grandstand is crumbling around itself and we’ve known for years we needed to do something...,” Turner said. “We were starting to worry about what we were going to do. We’ve had several different grants and several different avenues and just came up short but this one saved us.”

Since they didn’t get the entire amount they needed he said they are hoping to tackle the project later this year, “if we have a good fair” out of their own budget.

The Butler County Sheriff’s Office received $500,000 from the state but the medical pod expansion was estimated at $6.6 million when they applied for Gov. Mike DeWine’s $50 million jail funding program last summer.

ExploreButler County sheriff seeking $6.6 million to improve medical facilities

The jail has four medical beds, and during the height of the pandemic infected inmates were moved to the minimum security Resolutions facility for social distancing. Sheriff’s Office Chief Anthony Dwyer told the Journal-News even before the pandemic they realized their medical facilities have been inadequate from the start when the jail was built about 20 years ago.

The majority of the jail population is “brittle” with people who are drug or alcohol addicted or both — requiring close monitoring and care during detoxification — pregnant women and those suffering from mental health issues.

Dwyer said they are still trying to find out more about the funding they received but it won’t come close building the 36-bed expansion they had hoped for.

“We’ll look at what’s available and what it would cost the county, if there is a match, a lot of times they add strings to it,” Dwyer said. “If we have to match it and the county’s willing to match $500,000 that’s $1 million, there might be something we can do that will effectively fix or patch our medical.”

The county is flush with cash after years of belt-tightening, as of the end of April they had $92.6 million in unencumbered cash in the bank, a $15 million capital reserve fund, $16 million budget stabilization fund and nearly $75 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act money.

Commissioner Don Dixon said he would be willing consider providing some funding for the medical pod.

“I’ll listen to them, I understand the need,” Dixon said adding they need to make the facility “more medically useful.”

State Sen. George Lang put the jail medical facility in the capital bill and the West Chester Twp. Republican told the Journal-News there is no matching requirement. He said he wished the earmark could have been more.

“I was hoping to get a little more for the jail for that purpose,” Lang said. “This year is the first year — and I pushed for this — that our capital budget we are not borrowing money, we are paying cash. Every other year we would bond the capital budget. As a result of not wanting to borrow any money, and I hope it’s a principle we can stick with on a go forward basis, as a result of that, that was all we could get for the jail.”

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