breaking news

Warren County delays action on awarding $700K in federal grants

Published: Tuesday, April 18, 2017 @ 11:45 AM

            Lebanon hoped to fix Cambridge Court with federal funds through U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Staff photo by Lawrence Budd
            Lawrence Budd
Lebanon hoped to fix Cambridge Court with federal funds through U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Staff photo by Lawrence Budd(Lawrence Budd)

The Warren County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday postponed approval of $700,000 in federal funding this year for a variety of projects due to questions about the funding program’s future.

The board closed the second public hearing required before designating which projects are to be funded through community development block grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

MORE: County adds loop bus service

“At this point, HUD has not told us what our allocation is,” Susanne Mason, the county’s grants administrator, said during the hearing, required by federal law.

RELATED: No federal grant for Franklin museum

Typically local governments hear from HUD by February about how much money will actually be available for the block grants, Mason said.

This year, Mason said there was no word on funding or whether the Trump administration would cut this HUD program, as proposed during the presidential election.

RELATED: Block grant funding requests top $1 million in Warren County

If funded, Lebanon would receive the most, $277,900 for road work on Cambridge Court, Georgetown Drive, Raintree Trail and Winding Way.

Franklin Twp. is to receive $160,000 for Harriet and Olive avenues and Mentz Road repairs.

The county planned to use $90,000 for program administration.

In addition, the county planned to provide through HUD:

$64,500 for housing and feeding the homeless through the Interfaith Hospitality Network;

$60,000 to Deerfield Twp. for engineering on Davis Court and Rich Road;

$42,000 to the Abuse and Rape Crisis Shelter of Warren County for housing assistance for victims of domestic violence;

$19,145 to the Village of Butlerville for a playground update.

In response to a question from Commissioner Shannon Jones, Mason said she had notified the proposed recipients of the status of their application for funding.


“They know what our intentions are,” Mason said.

With Commissioner Dave Young absent, Jones and Commissioner Tom Grossmann gave the nod to support plans by the county’s economic development office to lobby for the program.

Last month, the Trump administration proposed budgets for federal agencies including HUD.

“The blueprint reflects the President’s commitment to support HUD’s critical functions that provide rental assistance to low-income and vulnerable households and to help work-eligible families achieve self-sufficiency. It also recognizes a greater role for State and local governments, and the private sector to address community and economic development needs. ” according to a press release.”A more detailed program-by-program budget proposal will be announced in May.”

In addition to the block grants, HUD which has a budget of about $50 billion, provides rental assistance and promotes home ownership through the Federal Housing Administration. FHA underwrites about one in six mortgages issued in the U.S. and enforces federal fair housing laws.

Follow Lawrence Budd on Twitter

Warren County lodging tax to finance $15M sports complex

Published: Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 11:34 AM

            New England Way is across Greentree Road and near the proposed Warren County Sports Park at Union Village. STAFF / LAWRENCE BUDD
New England Way is across Greentree Road and near the proposed Warren County Sports Park at Union Village. STAFF / LAWRENCE BUDD

The lodging tax that funds the Warren County Convention & Visitors Bureau will be pledged to pay off debt on a $15 million sports complex to be built west of Lebanon.

This morning, the county commissioners agreed to pledge the 3 percent lodgings tax, as well as 1 percent recently added, to fund the Warren County Sports Park at Union Village.

RELATED: First sign of 4,500-home, 1,400 acre planned community expected next summer

A portion of the 3 percent is expected to be needed to satisfy holders of the bonds funding the project.

“Whatever is left over they get for their operations,” Deputy County Administrator Martin Russell said.

RELATED: Warren County ups lodgings tax to pay for sports complex

Also, the commissioners voted to transfer the property for the sports complex to the Warren County Port Authority.

The state law enabling the additional 1 percent in lodgings tax was amended to allow the port authority, rather than the county itself, to own the sports complex.

“We had that law changed,” Russell said during a work session with the commissioners.

RELATED: 12,000 residents, $1.5B in investment expected at Union Village

Next Monday, the port authority, an independent board created by the commissioners, is expected to vote to issue more than $15 million in debt to pay for the facility, off Ohio 741 and Greentree Road in Turtlecreek Twp.

“Warren County taxpayers have zero liability,” Commissioner Dave Young said.

Follow Larry Budd on Twitter

The port authority would turn over operation of the sports complex to the CVB.

Logan County auditor: Hire more deputies to make jail safer

Published: Sunday, September 17, 2017 @ 12:00 PM
Updated: Friday, September 15, 2017 @ 5:41 PM

Logan County Auditor says county can afford to hire more deputies

The Logan County Jail is overwhelmed with inmates, according to the sheriff, but has had trouble with staffing since its budget was cut several years ago.

Now the county auditor says money is available to hire more deputies, but budgets haven’t changed.

Around 2008, county budgets, like many budgets across Ohio, were cut as a response to the Great Recession, Logan County Auditor Michael Yoder said.

RELATED: Clark County inmates charged with riot amid overcrowding complaints

That meant layoffs for the sheriff’s office, Logan County Sheriff Randy Dodds said.

“We’ve never recovered from that,” Dodds said.

The jail has a capacity of about 140 inmates, he said, but after the cuts it held about 70 to 80 inmates with three corrections officers.

But lately, with the heroin epidemic, the jail has been holding many more inmates, he said. At one time it reached nearly 130 inmates, which requires about 5 or 6 corrections officers.

“I’ve had to increase my staffing levels because of safety issues, which causes overtime,” he said. “And a lot of overtime.”

It’s changed how deputies operate, Dodds said.

“We went from a proactive department to a reactive department simply because we just don’t have the staffing,” he said.

The county has since recovered from the recession, Yoder said.

READ MORE: Pods under Clark County Jail closed over security concerns

“The sales tax has gone up dramatically in the last few years, which is great … Overall the economy has just improved in the past few years and we’ve been recipients of that improvement,” he said.

It’s Yoder’s opinion that the county can now afford to hire more deputies.

“It’s a matter of safety as it relates to the sheriff’s office,” he said.

But Yoder said county commissioners have kept budgets flat.

“I believe that many of the counties have increased their budgets since that time, where we’ve pretty much remained flat,” he said.

Logan County commissioners declined to talk to the Springfield News-Sun about the budgets.

DETAILS: Springfield fire, police chiefs to retire, 6 seek to replace them

The reason commissioners have kept budgets flat might be because more cash reserves give the county a better bond rating, Yoder said, making it cheaper for the county needs to borrow money.

“I’m not certain that there’s an awful lot of borrowing that needs to be done at this time,” he said.

Commissioners should spend money responsibly, Logan County Resident Kimberly Kerns said, but she’d support a budget increase for the sheriff’s office.

“They’re our No. 1 priority for our community to keep us safe,” she said of deputies.

If the sheriff’s office had more resources, she said it could help to combat the heroin epidemic.

“That’s our safety and we’ve got to get a hold on this heroin thing,” she said.

Dodds believes the staffing situation will get better. He plans to hire a few more corrections officers soon.

“Budgets are tight and money is tight and I think things will get better in time,” he said.

Decisions on the county budget for next year will be made in the coming months.

Residents join those questioning First Amendment on Facebook

Published: Sunday, September 17, 2017 @ 10:24 AM

            Lisa Wilson and Katy Wuest, two of the residents suing Hamilton Twp. Trustee David Wallace Jr., use an anti-Wallace sign as their Facebook profile photo.
Lisa Wilson and Katy Wuest, two of the residents suing Hamilton Twp. Trustee David Wallace Jr., use an anti-Wallace sign as their Facebook profile photo.

A group of Warren County residents is testing the legal boundaries of the First Amendment on Facebook.

A lawyer has filed a federal lawsuit against one of their local elected officials, Hamilton Twp. Trustee David Wallace Jr., claiming he violated their First Amendment rights by preventing them from commenting on his Hamilton Twp. Trustee Facebook site.

The lawsuit cites one other similar case, on appeal in the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia.

Legal experts indicate the legal questions are fresh and undecided.

“There have been only a handful of cases,” Bennet G. Kelley of the California-based Internet Law Center said.

Jack Greiner, a Cincinnati-based media lawyer, added, “The law is settled that a person cannot be denied the right to speak in a public forum based on the person’s viewpoint. It is a little unsettled as to whether and under what circumstances a social media page constitutes a ‘public forum.”’

The lawsuit is related to management of a Facebook site where Wallace interacts with residents about village issues, but which also features re-election materials. He also has another web page devoted to his campaign.

RELATED: Federal lawsuit filed against township trustee over Facebook page

Since the filing of the lawsuit, some of those who were unable to have regained the ability to comment on the Facebook page in question.

Two of the residents in the lawsuit, Katy Wuest and Lisa Wilson, said they had been “unblocked” since the lawsuit was filed. However Wilson said others are still unable to comment on the site.

Wallace did not respond to requests for comment and has not responded to the lawsuit, filed on Sept. 5 in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati.

He is one of seven candidates running for two seats on the three-seat board of trustees in Hamilton Twp., a thriving, politically active township, south of Lebanon.

MORE: Intergenerational community gets $9 million in state tax credits

Also running are Darryl Cordrey, Cadi Kelly, Nathan Myers, Joe Rozzi, Roxan Tarnowski and Kim Lukens.

RELATED: Warren County GOP divided heading toward leadership vote

Wuerst and Wilson are critics of the trustee and display anti-Wallace signs on their Facebook profiles.

MORE: Huber Heights candidates speak out on Facebook fights

Danny Wilson, Kyle Riley and Amanda Johnson are also parties to the lawsuit. Their lawyer is Joshua Engel.

“Recently, a federal court in Virginia found that a local politician had violated the First Amendment when she temporarily banned a constituent from commenting on her Facebook page. This case raises substantially similar issues,” Engel said in comments posted on his law firm’s website.

The Virginia case involves a Facebook page maintained by Phyllis Randall, chair of the Loudon County Board of Supervisors. Randall temporarily blocked a resident named Brian Davison after a “contentious exchange” during a town hall debate, Greiner wrote in a recent article on the case published on his firm’s website.

“Mr. Davison is the only person Ms. Randall has ever banned from her Facebook page. And by the next morning, she thought better of it, and unbanned him,” Greiner added in his article.

Randall argued the page was “purely personal,” thus not subject to a First Amendment challenge. The Virginia court disagreed.

“By prohibiting Plaintiff from participating in her online forum because she took offense at his claim that her colleagues in the County government had acted unethically, Defendant committed a cardinal sin under the First Amendment,” the court said in its ruling.

MORE: Dayton police called about woman posting about boyfriend on Facebook

Although some of Wallace’s critics have been unblocked or unbanned, Engel indicated his lawsuit would not be withdrawn.

“We won’t be dropping the suit because we can’t confirm what he has done to unblock people and, more importantly, we need to make sure this is not done in the future,” Engel said via email.

Facebook didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.

Greiner likened Facebook to a landlord in this case.

“The limits imposed on a public official are a function of the First Amendment. If a congressman leased office space in a private office building and advertised ‘office hours’ open to constituents, but banned certain constituents from visiting during that time solely because of their viewpoints, it wouldn’t be a lease issue, and it wouldn’t be the landlord’s problem. But it would be a First Amendment issue,” he said.

Warren County wants to preserve old jail, sheriff’s quarters

Published: Sunday, September 17, 2017 @ 10:22 AM

The sheriff and his family lived in the old Warren County Jail.

Warren County is trying to preserve its 120-year-old jail, sheriff’s office and living quarters, while moving ahead with plans to build a new $50 million facility.

RELATED: Jail architect picked after near riot

The historic jail, sheriff’s office and living quarters at 312 E. Silver St. in Lebanon is part of the East End Historic District in Lebanon, but has fallen into disrepair since the existing jail opened in 1975 and the building was decommissioned in 2013.

RELATED: County to preserve old jail, demolish newest section

The two-story building, featuring a Richardsonian Romanesque sandstone facade, was built in 1890, with the sheriff’s quarters commissioned in 1893.

Commissioner Dave Young, Archivist and Records Manager Jen Haney Conover and other advocates see the old building as a tourist attraction, another stop on tours of downtown Lebanon’s historic structures.

MORE: Golden Lamb Inn celebrates 200 years 

“When I see that, I see history. I see some really cool opportunities,” Young said during an Aug. 29 discussion.” It fits right in.”

Durng the discussion, County Administrator Tiffany Zindel pointed out getting the building ready for tours or special events could be costly.

“It’s a business decision. Do you want to be in that business?” Zindel asked.

By approving $160,00 for demolition and repairs, the commissioners took the first step toward reopening the old building to the public.

“Community Ties & Alibis” is an exhibit currently on display in the central lobby of the Warren County Administrative Center, 406 Justice Dr. in Lebanon.

The exhibit explains how the old jail - the third built on land at Silver and East streets donated for this purpose - was constructed “in response to regular complaints from the Grand Jury that the previous jail was unsafe and inadequate for the purposes of Warren County.”

While dusty and dark, the two-story Silver Street structure is basically sound, with cells and common areas much as they were when inhabited by inmates. Even some of the graffiti on the walls is a century old, Conover said during her presentation to the commissioners.

Earlier this month, Conover, assistant archivist Jennifer Baker and facilities manager Trevor Hearn toured the building, where the county sheriff and his family also lived until 1960.

While living in a county jail today seems unlikely, in the 19th century it was not unusual, especially in small rural areas, where the sheriff also served as jailer.

“Typically jails were much smaller and with smaller inmate numbers. It may have put someone there 24 hours a day when staffing was extremely low. You will also see that the Sheriff’s wife was often times the cook for the inmates,” Sheriff Larry Sims said in an email.

Standing near a fireplace in the master bedroom, Baker explained a wall was all that separated the sheriff and his wife from the jail, leaving them within earshot of inmates.

“They could still hear things going on in the jail from this bedroom,” she said.

Follow Lawrence Budd on Twitter

Last week, the commissioners continued to debate over what they were looking for in a construction manager for the new jail.

What qualifications were important to the project? Should it be built in the county complex or on land outside Lebanon? What accommodations should be made for criminals driven by addictions to heroin or other drugs.

But they have decided to explore preservation of the old Silver Street facilities.

MORE: Lebanon one of 7 small Ohio downtowns profiled

In coming months, Hearn expects to oversee demolition of newer sections of the building, roof repairs and removal of mold and other contamination from the building.

“Once that’s done, we can move forward with conversations about what we are going to do with this wonderful building,” Conover said.