RAVENNA -- County commissioners cannot use taxpayer money for capital investments for the benefit of non-county organizations, the county prosecutor said last week.

That's basic Ohio law, but in tasking a subcommittee with reviewing substance abuse treatment, prevention and education proposals, the board failed to inform the committee of that fact.

Commissioners recently recommended halting the review of 10 proposals for substance abuse treatment using roughly $4 million in sales and use tax revenue. The board is now discussing channeling that money toward deputy salaries at the jail, where a 132-bed, $13 million expansion is planned.

Two of those proposals came from Family & Community Services, one for renovations to the former Altercare facility on New Milford Road in Ravenna to become an addiction treatment center and one to purchase two houses in Ravenna that could be used for sober living.

County Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci said that Ohio law states exactly what the board can and cannot do with county money, and that commissioners should know what is within their statutory authority.

The county can contract for services with third-party providers such as private non-profit organizations, Vigluicci said. The county does that for treatment services at Northeast Ohio Community Alternative Program in Warren and Prevention, Retention and Contingency and Root House programs in Ravenna.

Investments such as those proposed by F&CS at the Altercare facility are now off the table, though other programs could still be feasible. If F&CS makes the renovations, the county could contract for services there, but the future of any proposal is unclear.

Meanwhile, commissioners don't anticipate extending the five-year jail sales tax when it expires.

The tax is expected to generate $25 million to fund the $13 million jail expansion and pay for more than $5 million to increase road patrols, deputies and probation officers at the sheriff's office.

A staffing plan for the jail expansion has not been finalized. Any remaining money was originally planned for the substance abuse prevention programs.

If commissioners can't fund the additional officers once the tax expires, the $1 million annual cost would have to be absorbed by the county's general fund, something County Budget and Finance Director Todd Bragg said isn't feasible without sales tax money.

Email: mmerchant@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4156