Three dozen people toured the Stark County Jail Wednesday as part of the sheriff office’s efforts to show taxpayers why the county needs additional revenue.
Chief Deputy Michael McDonald, who oversees the jail for the sheriff’s office, said he guided two groups through the 14 housing areas and allowed them to speak with inmates and officers along the way.
He said many of the visitors expressed surprise at how large the jail is and how one officer had to watch two floors of violent inmates on his own due to layoffs that occurred in December.
McDonald said he also received good suggestions, such as asking retired residents to volunteer their help for some maintenance needs at the jail. He said he would first need to research any liability issues.
Many of Wednesday’s visitors said they were prompted to visit after learning that no residents had shown up for the jail’s first scheduled tour on Monday, McDonald said.
The sheriff’s office has scheduled the ongoing twice weekly tours as a way to show residents how the office has been affected by this year’s budget cuts and how its operations would be affected if voters defeat the 0.5 percent sales on the November ballot.
If approved, the 0.5 percent sales tax, which would cost an additional 50 cents for every $100 purchase, would generate roughly $11 million in 2012 and the about $22 million in 2013 that would fund criminal justice services, which include the county offices of the sheriff, prosecutor, coroner and courts. Commissioners have said they would seek to restore the sheriff’s staffing levels and inmate population to its pre-cut levels if the levy passes in November.
Without the sales tax revenue, many county offices face a 40 percent reduction to their general-fund operations. Sheriff Timothy Swanson said the cut would mean more layoffs and the closing of additional sections of the jail. He said the jail, which housed roughly 500 inmates in early 2010, would be able to handle only 112 inmates due to lack of staff to guard them.
Tours of the jail will continue next week. The tours, which typically last about one hour and forty-five minutes, will begin at 6 p.m. on Mondays and 9 a.m. on Wednesdays.
Visitors must be at least 16 years old and could be subject to screening. McDonald said he had to turn away some residents who arrived with young children Wednesday due to safety concerns.
For more information, call 330-430-3833.