Council weighs jail response
- Published: March 19, 2020
At its March 3 regular meeting, Village Council hashed out a letter to the Greene County Commissioners on their proposal to build a new county jail.
At the polls on Tuesday, March 17, voters will decide on a 0.25% sales tax increase for 12 years to raise $70 million for a new 500-bed jail.
Ahead of the vote, Council encouraged the county to appoint a Greene County Justice System Task Force, according to their letter. The letter also calls for the county to employ “meaningful treatment and rehabilitation strategies.”
And the final version registers disappointment with the final option the county selected, stating a preference for a plan with fewer jail beds and more funding for a residential treatment center.
However, Council’s letter does not explicitly state that Council doesn’t support the sales tax levy, or that it discourages the electorate from voting for it.
That was one recommendation of Greene County Citizens Against Giant Jail Tax. Eric Miller and Bomani Moyenda spoke on behalf of the group at the Council meeting. Both urged stronger language against the measure, some of which Council later incorporated into the letter. Moyenda also highlighted the group’s most significant concern: the proposal to increase jail beds by 30%.
Council President Brian Housh, who drafted the letter, said he has already told commissioners that he doesn’t believe local constituents support the levy. But Moyenda said that message does not come through.
“It’s just not clear in the letter,” he said.
Council Vice President Marianne MacQueen agreed with Housh that Council should not take an explicit stance against the levy.
“I’m not willing as a Council member to say I don’t support that issue, nor am I willing to say I’m directing our citizens not to,” MacQueen said.
Council member Laura Curliss, by contrast, was supportive of the stronger language.
Although the county could have selected an option that prioritized rehabilitation, she said, “instead they went with this maximum bed option.”
“That’s why people are unhappy with it, and why I support putting that language in,” Curliss said.
From the floor, former Council member Karen Wintrow said she agrees with Council’s approach to not oppose the project, saying “not endorsing a levy is a big departure for Village Council.”
“I think the best thing that we can do is to have a letter that stands by our convictions and explains how to do it better but doesn’t challenge the overall project,” Wintrow said.
Housh said he drafted the letter keeping in mind the village’s limitations as a “blue dot in a sea of red.”
“I hope that seems like a solid stance from Council and one that’s also realizing the limitations we have,” he said. “Ultimately I want to be in a position where we can make some demands to get on track.”
Council member Lisa Kreeger said she didn’t feel comfortable telling citizens how to vote but would be open to expressing her disagreement as a Council member. Council member Kevin Stokes was supportive of the draft letter, and said he hoped county plans for increased programming in the new jail panned out.
The final version of the letter was signed by all members of Council. Housh said he would present the letter in person at the next commissioner’s meeting.
In other Council business—
New stormwater utility proposed
Village Manager Josué Salmerón spoke about the need for a separate enterprise utility to manage stormwater, with its own “dedicated funds.” He noted that the Village’s wastewater treatment plant is treating twice as much water as local residences and businesses produce in effluent due to stormwater infiltrating the system.
One option is user-based fees on all local property owners, Salmerón said. The fees could be based upon how much impervious surface, like driveways and buildings, are on a property. Such fees could prompt property owners to implement better water management practices on their properties, he noted.
Council members were supportive of the idea moving forward, but Housh said he wanted to wait to talk specifics about how the new utility would be funded.
• Council passed the first reading of an ordinance that edits sections of ordinances related to water connection fees. It does not affect fees, according to Council Clerk Judy Kintner.
• Council unanimously passed a resolution adopting Council’s 2020 goals. In short, they are to provide an affordable community, promote development of housing, engage in continuous infrastructure development, avoid a deficit budget, execute an economic sustainability strategy, establish a model Village Justice System, develop quality surface transportation infrastructure and support an environmentally resilient and sustainable community.
Salmerón presented staff goals related to Council goals. They included reducing infiltration and inflow into the sanitary sewer lines by 10%, producing a municipal broadband business strategy, developing a website for the YS Police Department, promoting the Village operating levy renewal in the fall and establishing a new waste management service with expanded recycling options, among other goals.
Issue 4 passage urged
From the floor, Mayor Pam Conine urged voters to pass Issue 4, which would allow local 16- and 17-year-olds to vote on Village offices and ballot measures. Conine argued that 18-year-olds are undergoing many changes, such as graduation and moving away for college, which may impact voting. “Sixteen is a better time than 18 to establish the habit of voting,” Conine said.
Vernay cleanup updated
Salmerón reported that the Village will meet next with the U.S. EPA about the Vernay cleanup on March 18. The EPA still has to review Vernay’s latest reports showing that local vapor intrusion and stream contamination are not significant. Salmerón said the Village has sent a petition to the EPA for Vernay to install an additional well to monitor conditions in the Brassfield Aquifer, the source of municpal water. A comment period on Vernay’s cleanup plan is expected in summer 2020, Salmerón added.
Annual reports delivered
• Greene County Public Library Director Karl Colón gave a presentation on the county library system. Colón said there were 95,307 visits over the year, with 124,967 items checked out. In addition, 317 library programs were attended by 5,000 people. The county library system is in the top 5% of libraries in the nation in its circulation and attendance, according to a recent recognition by the Library Journal.
• Karen Wintrow gave an annual report from the Village Economic Sustainability Commission, which has been put on hiatus for 2020. Over the year, the group worked to retain EnviroFlight, explored paid parking strategies and started work on a business attractor case study to understand why businesses choose or don’t choose Yellow Springs. Group members in 2019 were Saul Greenberg, Patrick Lake, Henry Myers, Susan Jennings, Emily Seibel, Scott Fife (alternate), Sammy Saber (alternate), Karen Wintrow and Lisa Kreeger (Council liaison).
• Village Public Works Director Johnnie Burns gave an annual report on public works. Burns reported that the Village changed out 25 electric poles and responded to 94 local power outages and six water main breaks. The Village also completed its first unidirectional flushing of water pipes to clear manganese and other build up, which was mandated by the EPA. Much time was also spent mapping local underground utilities during Miller Pipeline’s work on gas lines, Burns said.
Council’s next meeting is Monday, March 16, at 7 p.m., in Council chambers at the Bryan Center.