Cuyahoga County Council on Tuesday took steps to set aside $53.6 million in federal stimulus funds to build a new jail.
Council voted 8-2 on a key amendment to the legislation in a committee meeting Tuesday afternoon.
Supporters of the measure said the funds would give County Executive-elect Chris Ronayne a jump on planning for the jail’s future – even though Ronayne has said he did not want the funds locked into a single purpose.
“There comes a reckoning, and the reckoning is January 1,” said Republican Councilman Michael Gallagher, who supported the measure. He added, “There will be no roses on the desk. There will be a bill for $1 billion.”
During this year’s election, Ronayne joined activists and court officials in opposing a plan – supported by council and current County Executive Armond Budish – to build a new jail on the site of a former Standard Oil refinery in the Industrial Valley. Ronayne’s move irked members of council who believed the county should not delay the project.
Ronayne told Signal Cleveland after his victory this month that he wanted to review the useful life of the current Justice Center. He called for an “audit” of the county’s criminal justice system to see if the population in the jail could be reduced.
Democratic Councilman Dale Miller said the county needs a new jail, but the legislation isn’t the way to help Ronayne build one.
“This legislation does not advance that goal,” he said. “To do so would require a high level of cooperation between the council and the next executive. This legislation is a slap in the face and gets us started off on the wrong foot right out of the gate.”
The legislation creates a “Justice Center capital projects fund” for building a new jail and county courthouse. But the money in the fund could also be used for renovations to the current jail facilities, council advisor Trevor McAleer told members.
In a statement released after the vote, Ronayne reiterated his view that remaining American Rescue Plan Act funds should be left unrestricted for the new administration.
“Our community is facing many issues as we recover from the pandemic and limiting the flexibility of the next County Executive to deal with those pressing issues with ARPA funds is unnecessary and shortsighted,” he said. “I expect more dialogue with County Council in the coming weeks as we partner together to best serve our community.”
Council is expected to take a final vote on the measure at its Dec. 6 meeting.