OCSD to receive increased budget for repairs, renovations to jail

Sheriff Cass Martin, front, with Reserve Deputy John Russo, says the sheriff’s department will be updating the jail’s pods as part of a major renovation project. One of the more important updates includes outfitting the cells with an intercom system, allowing inmates to alert jail staff in an emergency. Martin says the cells currently do not have working systems, with the hardware completely missing in several instances. The absence of an intercom system means a prisoner would have to yell loud enough to be heard through the jail cell door and the jail pod door, shown at the top right in the photo.

Martin says the jail cells were once outfitted with a system that let inmates buzz jail staff in an emergency. He says the units were removed and not replaced in several cells. He wants to fix that.

Ozark County Sheriff Cass Martin says the sheriff’s department plans to spend a good chunk of its 2021 budget for repairs within the jail. Martin says some of the funds will be used to replace broken glass window panes in prisoner cells, which could be used as a dangerous weapon against jail staff or other prisoners.

OCSD has repaired a hole in the recreation yard fencing so prisoners are now allowed to use the outdoor space in nicer weather. Martin said the fence had not been fixed and the yard had not been used since the September escape of prisoner Robert Abbott.

Water damage from a leaking roof has caused issues across the jail, including a damaged ceiling.

This former “catch-all” room inside the jail is now being used as a place for officers and jail staff to receive training.

With a combined leftover balance and expected revenue totaling $5.8 million and anticipated expenditures clocking in at $5.1 million, Ozark County’s 2021 budget is the largest in the county’s history. 

The uptick in sales tax revenue from 2020 and expected revenue for the coming year meant there was plenty of money to go around, making this year’s budgeting process easy and relatively uneventful, the county commissioners say. 

Most county offices received a similar budgeted amount as they had in 2020, with the exception of the Ozark County Sheriff’s Department, which received about $50,000 more than last year to provide some much-needed improvements to the jail. 


A roof in need of repair

Ozark County Sheriff Cass Martin says the current jail, which was built in 1996, has some dire needs that must be addressed immediately. 

Martin says the department is currently gathering and formulating estimates for all of the needed repairs, an amount he estimates will likely cost upward of $300,000 in total. 

The repairs will have to be made over several years, the sheriff says. 

“We’re going to try to tackle one issue at a time,” Martin told the Times, explaining that a badly deteriorating roof is at the very top of the list of needs. “Once we get the roof done, then we can start working on the walls and other elements, because if we put a new coat of paint on them and fix the window seals now, all it’s going to do is happen again. It’s like putting a band-aid on a bullet hole. We’ve got to get the roof fixed first.”

Martin says the flat-top roof covering the current jail is “almost gone,” and the building has been suffering the effects of water damage for years that has led to issues in much of the building’s interior ceiling, wall structure and windows. 

The deteriorating roof has created damaged walls, bubbled paint and rusted window seals, and it also caused ceilings to sag and fall in some areas, among other issues. 


‘A scary thought’

The department has also begun repairs on one pod within the jail and plans to tackle the others as time and funds allow.

“We’ve started work on this. We’ve done a lot of painting. We’re taking the green trim back to its original gray and just trying to get a fresh coat of paint on everything,” Martin said. “Tables, bunks, just about everything in here will be repainted.”

The jail showers, many of which are missing handles and fixtures, will also be repaired.

Although the pods will get a facelift, Martin says the more important issues and repairs include ensuring there is a working intercom system in each cell. 

The sheriff says each jail cell should be equipped with an intercom device that allows a prisoner to push a button in order to reach a jailer in another section of the building. Martin says all of the cells were at one time outfitted with the devices, but he said when he took office this year, the devices in all of the cells had either been removed or were not working. 

“So, if this cell door is shut and we have an inmate in here who is in cardiac arrest or having another medical emergency, they’ve got to try to shout past this locked cell door and then that locked pod door,” he said. “We lock down after a certain time at night, so if you’re in here by yourself and you’re having medical issues… I mean, that’s a scary thought.”


Windows and broken glass

The other major issue Martin plans to fix involves windows throughout the facility. Currently, several of them have been broken. 

“We’ve already pulled a bunch of the broken glass out,” said Ozark County Reserve Deputy John Russo, who has helped Martin and the OCSD identify issues and build a plan for renovations. “By jail standards, the cells are supposed to have natural light.”

Martin and Russo said that many of the jail cell windows had been removed after they were damaged, and steel plates were welded over the window opening, leaving the cell without natural light and often causing heating and cooling issues as the steel plate is exposed to outdoor conditions without any insulation materials. 

Several of the tall, thin glass windows on the cell doors separating the cell from to the main pod have been broken over time too, and Martin plans to remove all the broken glass and replace it with new glass panels. 

“Here’s some of the windows we took out of the cell doors,” Martin said, pointing to a box of broken window panels. “With this being busted like it is, I mean, that’s a glass shard. That’s a dangerous weapon. But when we got here, they were installed, broken like that inside the cells.”


Recreation yard

Martin says OCSD has been able to fix the recreation yard fencing to allow prisoners to use the space to get some fresh air. 

“When we first got here, the rec yard wasn’t even being utilized. The fence was still busted from the escape,” Martin said, referring to a September 2020 incident in which inmate Robert Abbott and another prisoner cut a hole in the chain link fencing that allowed Abbott to escape. “But we got that fixed, so now we’re able to actually utilize it. Now, with the cold weather and on nasty days, we don’t use it, but when we do have the opportunity for our guys to come out and use it, it’s available.”

Martin also spoke with the Ozark County Commissioners earlier this year about helping to maintain a clear fencerow on the west side of the jail. 

“It’s both a security and escape risk,” Russo said, pointing out the tangled vines that cover the fence. “Believe it or not, that’s barb wire over the 6-foot chainlink fence.”

Martin said he spoke with Ozark County Western District Commissioner Layne Nance, who said he would have the western district Road and Bridge Department employees begin working to clear the fencerow and keep it free from trees, vines and other foliage. 


The little things add up

Martin says a big part of the repair and renovation job is just knocking out dust, cobwebs and lint from all the nooks and crannies of the facility, which has built up to create some unsafe conditions. 

“If you look at the exhaust fan on the outside of the building, you can see soot from the dryer. It caught fire at some point because of all the lint packed in there,” he said. “So we got in there and cleared all that out to make it safe again.”

Other little touches include replacing bathroom faucets and completing other smaller repairs to restore working facilities throughout the building. 

The department is also replacing its current fixed lighting with LED bulbs to help with energy efficiency and lower monthly electric bills, Martin says. 


A new training room

Martin says he’s excited about the conversion of a previously under-utilized space that the department has transformed into a new law enforcement training center. 

“We had a class in here the last couple of days,” Martin told the Times Friday, referring to a class on Fundamentals of Court Security held at the sheriff’s department Feb. 11-12. “We had different officers from Jasper County to New Madrid County, Oregon County, Howell County, and some of our guys were in on this class,” Martin said. “And MOJO (a jail training and consulting company) came down and put it all on. So it’s nice to have our own training rooms to allow that to happen.”

Martin said a defendant who was sentenced to community service provided the labor involved with removing a wall that separated the space into two smaller rooms.

“That gentleman was able to come take it down for us, and now we’re better able to use the space. We also fixed the lights, where there were some panels out. It used to just be an old ‘catch-all’ room, and now we’re really making it a space that works for us,” he said.


County revenue

The county’s budget includes an expected revenue balance of $5,802,052 for the coming year. That total comprises $1,157,799 cash available at the start of the year, paired with $496,000 in expected property tax, $1,420,000 in expected sales tax, $1,017,915 in “intergovernmental revenues,” $191,000 in charges for services, $1,885 in interest, $1,241,929 in other revenues and $275,522 money transferred in. 

This year’s revenue will not include the potential of $200,000 of revenue derived from the Ozark County Sheriff’s Department’s housing contract with Greene County Sheriff’s Department. The contract, which ended in December 2020, was an agreement put into place by former Sheriff Darrin Reed in early 2019 that allowed Ozark County to house Greene County inmates for a daily housing fee. 

Martin says he also sees the benefit of housing out-of-area prisoners in the Ozark County Jail in order to generate revenue, and he’s been actively discussing future partnerships with different jurisdictions.

Martin says he hopes to hear back on one particular potential prisoner-housing contract agreement in early March. 



In the county’s summary funds, the following expenditures were allotted for each office: prosecuting attorney, $214,800; assessor, $182,049; county collector, $99,210; county clerk, $90,700; county commission, $85,732, treasurer, $54,526; public administrator, $50,956; recorder, $35,563; circuit clerk, $15,760; court administration, $9,775; juvenile officer, $27,645; and coroner, $28,305.64. 

The budget allows for $91,000 for county employee fringe benefits, $79,300 for buildings and grounds, $37,936 for elections, $9,696 for health and welfare among other smaller budget items. 

Ozark County Times

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