Officials get better offer to run jail

LISBON – The decision to seek new proposals to run the Columbiana County Jail while in the middle of an existing operating agreement may end up saving money for county commissioners.

Commissioners on Wednesday opened proposals received from two private companies – Sheffield Arger LLC and the Community Education Centers (CEC) Inc., the latter of which currently has the jail contract. A special meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. today to make a decision on the proposals.

CEC currently charges commissioners per day for every inmate incarcerated at the jail under the current six-year contract entered into in 2009. The contract expires Dec. 31, 2015, but allows it to be renewed by commissioners every two years in between under the same terms. The deadline for doing so is Nov. 1.

A cursory inspection of the proposals indicates CEC was the apparent low bidder at $70 per inmate day when the population is 120 or less, which is $7 less than Sheffield Arger. CEC’s fee is even slightly lower than what the company currently charges under the existing contract.

A private company has operated the county jail since 1998 under multi-year contracts and this is the first time commissioners ever sought proposals before the contract was to expire. Commission Chairman Mike Halleck said they took the unusual step because Sheffield Arger asked if it could compete for the contract by submitting a proposal, and commissioners

agreed, although the decision to do so was never made public until Wednesday.

After the meeting, Commissioner Jim Hoppel said Peter Argeropulos, an official once affiliated with CEC, quit the firm several years ago and started his own private jail/prison operating company, Sheffield Arger. Commissioners had dealt with Argeropulos in the past when he worked with CEC and Civigenics, the company before CEC that operated the jail, and agreed to let him submit a proposal.

“We’ve never done it before because we’ve never been asked before. We’re not dissatisfied with the company we have. We just wanted to make sure we’re getting the best deal we can get,” Hoppel said.

Sheffield Arger’s proposed fee was lower than CEC’s when inmate population exceeds 120 at the 200-bed facility, but Hoppel said that rarely occurs anymore since Cuyahoga County quit incarcerating some its non-violent offenders at the jail five years ago after building a new facility of its own.