Millage proposal for new jail will be on August ballot.

May 6, 2022

Oceana County Sheriff Craig Mast addresses the audience. Seated behind him, left to right, are Oceana County Administrator Dr. Robert Sobie and county commissioners Ron Christians and Craig Hardy.

Millage proposal for new jail will be on August ballot.

Please consider helping to fund local news. Mason County Press and Oceana County Press are available for free thanks to the generous support of our advertisers and individuals. Three ways to help us: Venmo: @MasonCountyPress; Paypal: [email protected]; Mail a check to PO BOX 21, Scottville, MI 49454. 

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

HART — The Oceana County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to put a 2.25 millage increase proposal to build a new jail and sheriff’s office on the Aug. 2 ballot during a special meeting Thursday evening, May 5.

The aging and overcrowded facility is in desperate need of replacement, Oceana County Sheriff Craig Mast, Undersheriff Ryan Schiller and Granger Construction Senior Project Manager Todd Butler stressed during a detailed presentation.

Butler presented costs for a 120-bed facility and a 144-bed jail. A 120-bed facility would cost $27.8 million to $32.7 million to build, and a 144-bed facility would cost $29.7 million to $34.8 million.

Although the resolution doesn’t explicitly state it, all indications are that the board will pursue a 144-bed facility given the economies of scale — costs for the slight increase — described last night,” said Oceana County Administrator Dr. Robert Sobie Friday morning.

Undersheriff Ryan Schiller makes his presentation.

The proposed site for the new jail is on North Oceana Drive near the water tower in the City of Hart.

Fixing the present 55-year-old jail would cost $4 million to $6 million, said Sheriff Mast. The jail has energy, light and mechanical deficiencies and no ventilation system. 

County officials and experts have been extensively examining the issue and reviewing several design options, said Mast.

“We’re trying to make data-driven decisions and not shoot from the hip,” he said.

The jail, which has a capacity of 66, had 57 inmates housed in the facility as of Thursday, said Mast. “I’m afraid of declaring a housing emergency.”

The linear jail does not have enough cells to separate offender classifications, so violent inmates have to be placed with non-violent inmates. The jail consistently fails annual Michigan Department of Corrections inspections because of that problem, said Mast. “We’re accepting liability by not building a new jail.

The Oceana County Board of Commissioners prior to the start of the meeting.

“Our jail is not able to perform the mission it was designed for,” said the sheriff.

Undersheriff Schiller described the jail’s many mechanical deficiencies. The facility lacks holding cells, and the windows are the original 55-year-old windows. Old skeleton keys are used, and if they break off, the entire door has to be replaced at a cost of $12,000. There is no sprinkler system for fire suppression in the older portion of the jail. 

“There are no temperature controls,” said Undersheriff Schiller. “They’re either on or they’re off. Our appliances age faster, because we’re using them 24 hours a day.”

The jail’s aged generator shut off during a recent power outage. “The entire jail was black,” he said. Heavy rain last August flooded the jail’s basement with 6 inches of water.

“There are numerous lights in our building that we don’t have switches to.” They’re on 24 hours a day/365 days a year.

The new jail may include a short-term juvenile detention center. Mast described the serious lack of juvenile facilities available state-wide.

No decision has been made on what will happen with the old facility if a new jail is built, said Board Chairman Robert Walker. There will be no additional tax levies to renovate the old facility if it is used for additional office space for the adjacent county building and courthouse, said Walker.

“I’ve never half-assed anything. Don’t half-ass it,” said community member Mike Cook promoting construction of the larger 144-bed jail.

Please consider helping to fund local news. Mason County Press and Oceana County Press are available for free thanks to the generous support of our advertisers and individuals. Three ways to help us: Venmo: @MasonCountyPress; Paypal: [email protected]; Mail a check to PO BOX 21, Scottville, MI 49454. 

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