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City Council opposes closure of Athens County prison

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Southeastern Correctional Complex Hocking Unit

Athens City Council is worried the closure of the facility will also cause a significant loss in revenue to Athens’ retail economy and will lead to a secondary loss of workers in local municipalities.

Athens City Council voted unanimously Monday night to pass a resolution to oppose the closing of the Southeastern Correctional Complex Hocking Unit located near Nelsonville.

The prison, which operates under the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, employs 110 employees and imprisons 430 inmates. Operational costs are $65 a day per inmate and costs the state a total of $11.5 million annually, making it Ohio’s most expensive correctional facility to operate, according to an ODRC fact sheet.

If the facility were to close, Nelsonville is expected to lose $340,000 in revenue per year. The council is worried this loss in revenue will also cause a significant loss in revenue to Athens’ retail economy and will lead to a secondary loss of workers in local municipalities.

The prison is one of the largest employers in the area. Those currently employed by the Hocking prison will be offered jobs at other Ohio prisons, and inmates will be transferred to other facilities.

“Not only are we going to be impacted by the amount of people who are going to be laid off,” Councilmember Chris Fahl said. “I’d like to point out that these are union jobs.”

Fahl is worried that a replacement facility would be privatized and would not offer the job protections the union employees have.

“This short-sighted decision has blindsided many in the Hocking Valley, who deserve better from their state government,” Rep. Jay Edwards said in a letter to the ODRC.

“Rather than pulling the rug out from under the families of this area, I am requesting that you immediately halt any efforts to close this facility and instead invest that time and energy in working with myself and my community to address any issues you believe exist that warrant closure of this facility.”

The facility’s planned March 2018 closing is an effort by the state of Ohio to save money, according to the council.

“The state of Ohio, in terms of taxation, is essentially broke,” Councilmember Jeffrey Risner said. “Since they’re not going to raise taxes to increase revenue, the only thing left to do is to cut out programs.”

Ohio legislators cut taxes on corporations to attract businesses from across the country in an effort to grow the economy, Risner said.

“The economy did not grow,” he said. “No new jobs were created. The revenue stream is going down.”

The resolution referred to Ohio’s economy as being depressed and faced with high poverty and unemployment levels. The interconnectedness of the local economy has council members concerned about the impact the closing of the prison will have.

“In today’s economy, everything is tied together,” Risner said. “What impacts one community impacts another to lesser or greater degrees, but nonetheless, we’re all all in the same boat down here in southeast Ohio.

The resolution also requests that the various departments and agencies of the state of Ohio work with and assist all local governments in Athens and Hocking county to preserve jobs in the region to build the economy.

Athens City Council will support the efforts of Athens and Hocking county, as well as the city of Nelsonville, to find a solution to repurpose the Hocking Unit and preserve jobs.

Other business:

  1. Council Member Patrick McGee introduced an ordinance authorizing design engineering of the Stimson Avenue Improvements Project
  2. The city will receive hot asphalt Thursday and start doing patchwork on potholes
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