MPD Guest Blog: Future of Middletown Jail

Guest blog post from Chief of Middletown Police Rodney Muterspaw on the future of the Middletown jail:

Two years or so ago, we started really looking at how to reduce jail costs, and potentially a solution to house prisoners elsewhere in the event we had closure of the jail due to state restrictions or budget constraints. Timelines were never presented in stone, but we looked at possibly 2021-2022 as a benchmark date. Our current jail budget is about $1.3 million (a small increase from last year). Staffing in the jail is at a minimum. We have not hired for relief factors simply because we cannot get jail applicants (last testing process in Fall 2018 we had four applicants, as opposed to 60+ applicants in 2009) and due to potential state closure down the road we did not want to burden newer employees with the stress of that. Simply put, those that built this jail in the 1970’s did not consider expansion at all. It was built underground, under a parking lot, next to two main city streets with heavy traffic. There is no way to comply with ongoing and changing state standards with what we have now. Obviously those state standards and legal precedents were not a part of jail procedures or policies when this one was built about 45 years ago.

We started meeting with the court a few years ago. These informal meetings were for discussion of reduction of housed inmates and to find a common solution that would benefit both parties. Currently the court pays no money toward our jail budget, however, the court has agreed to work with us to reduce prisoners in our jail. It has been a slow process, but they have done a great job. We have budgeted for 40 prisoners maximum in 2019. We cannot go over this or we go over budget and puts us in a financial crisis. This is a huge drop compared to the past when we would house up to 70 or 80 prisoners. That was a choice that was made in population placement years ago. We have seen it at over 90 with triple bunked inmates. The state, litigation issues and safety requirements simply will not allow us to even consider that anymore. Times have changed and we are abiding by those requirements.

We have met with the Butler County Sheriff’s Office in October to ask for an increase in allotted bed space for Middletown prisoners. We have not heard back yet, but if our officers charge under state code, the burden would then fall on the county, as well as a change in the fund disbursement. Adding beds at the county would free some of the worry from our officers in the event they need to make an arrest and we have no room at the jail. The Sheriff’s Office has been a friend to Middletown, working with us for whatever we need, but they need to ensure they not only have room, but that it fits their budget as well. We don’t want to make massive changes without their input or readiness; that is bad business. The solution we would look at if it worked out is to charge under state code for any prisoner over 40 in 2019, therefore, it would fall to the county. Since our jail is not a requirement, as the county is, they would assume the role of housing our prisoners under state code if compatible within the law.

Two huge decisions have come into play recently to make a monumental change in our jail policies. These are game changers and totally out of city or police control. First, our staff medical doctor has implemented a policy that requires our officers to take any intoxicated person to the hospital before admittance into the jail, for liability reasons. This policy changes things dramatically with street staffing. It adds transports to Kettering Medical or the Atrium before even bringing them to the jail. This adds an extra estimated hour to each arrest, pulling that officer off the street. Our jail commander has researched and this has become standard practice across Ohio for medical staffs within jails due to liability and malpractice. Even if we switched doctors, others would most likely do the same.

But an even bigger decision is now the state jail inspection team has recommended us to minimize the jail population to 32-34 maximum. That is even less than we had anticipated. It is a big change for us in dealing with arrestees. State and medical jail policies have changed quite a bit and we have no choice but to change with it. The change in policy and requirements since the 1980’s and 90’s are drastically different. County and State jails and prisons are required under law to fund facilities, which are then covered under certain mandates to ensure long term success. Simply stated, we are not.

We are going to a more summons, book & release approach to non-violent arrests at this time, like every other agency does. This is pretty much what agencies all over Ohio do without jails. There are about 250 cities in Ohio; 248 do not have jails. Since we are one of the last two municipalities with a jail in Ohio, everyone else has already began using this approach in enforcing ordinances and state law. Violent and felony type arrests will still go to the jail through Butler and Warren County. The downside to this is transports – like every other agency does. We would need to figure out a simple way to transport prisoners after arrest without pulling officers off the street for long periods of time. We do have several ideas and solutions to that we are currently working on with staff – including hiring part-time transport personnel to take the burden off of patrol. Patrol officers working a beat simply cannot do transports constantly and maintain a fully staffed patrol in Middletown. We need officers on the street working a beat or assigned to detectives working cases. We believe we can succeed with transport officers if necessary to help alleviate that problem.

2018 Year End Recap

So we come to the end of my fourth year as your City Manager. I’d call 2018 a transition year. A year where we talked less about where we were and more about where we want to go.

We finished a number of large projects and started new ones. The new schools are  finished and in operation. NTE is producing electricity. Kettering Health Network is open for business. OPUS is under construction in MADE industrial park.

Beyond that, however, there are a couple of notable changes in the city during 2018. The first is with public safety.

Heroin overdoses are down almost 50% from last year, at a time when other communities are still showing increases.  This is due to a community wide effort. With our partners at Atrium Medical Center, we have changed the message and actions regarding addiction in the city.  The Heroin Response Team visits with every overdose victim possible. Our public safety forces have increased enforcement.  Our needle exchange is keeping disease down while other Butler County areas are showing large spikes in hepatitis and other diseases. What was taboo and unspeakable just a few years ago has become a community effort and open discussion as to how specifically to treat addiction in this city. I applaud our friends at Atrium for their forethought and their participation with me on making this a priority for the area.

Crime is significantly down in the city. Middletown Division of Police responded to 10,000 fewer calls for service in 2018 than they did in 2017. Part one serious crimes showed significant decreases. Thefts are down. Drug enforcement is up. As is always the case, Chief Muterspaw has been everywhere in the community (and on Twitter, lol). MPD celebrated multiple community events in 2018 including National Night Out, Coffee with a Cop (quarterly), meeting with Middletown area pastors (quarterly), continued work with the Citizens Advisory Board, Candy with a Cop (distributing candy to children too sick or disabled to trick or treat), Shop with a Cop (to provide Christmas gifts to underprivileged children), and ongoing work with Middletown landlords.

The Division of Fire is completing new manpower and station location studies. With the changing landscape of the city and more east end development, we know that some of our old stations are nearing the end of their useful life and also are not ideally positioned to best respond to the future of Middletown. This new information helps us understand what the ideal layout would look like so we can start designing a future Division of Fire that best serves the community.

The new city Master Plan is almost done. We worked on land use and other areas of the plan this year, our first new plan since 2005. We are now working on transportation and housing to be included into the overall plan.

Housing was a large priority in 2018. I am happy to see housing values rebounding finally after the recession. I’d like to take this time to thank my housing committee.  They’ve put in long hours working with me to discuss Middletown housing and to find the best policies moving forward for demolition, renovation of existing homes, dealing with tax delinquent property, vacant land, vacant housing, infill construction and full use of the Butler County land bank. As we move into 2019, we’ll take those concepts and create a comprehensive housing policy along with neighborhood plans for renovations.

2018 saw another year of record income tax levels.

I see Dayton and Cincinnati moving towards us and amazing possibilities in the next 3-5 years. I see record revenues two years in a row. I see new businesses and expanding businesses and open jobs all over the city. I see beautiful historic homes. I see further reduction in crime and better access to health care throughout the city. I see city neighborhoods that will be revitalized over the next several years. I see more and more places to go and things to do.

I still hear too often about how nothing good is happening in the city or even more often “yes, but…” or how we used to be an All America City. We are not prosperous, but I can see prosperity coming… soon.  And prosperity needs to include all of our residents. You have a beautiful city on the cusp of becoming prominent again in the State of Ohio. My challenge to you in 2019 is for each of you to do something to move your city forward.  Actively be part of the solution. Participate, volunteer, eat and shop locally, tell a friend about the good things happening, celebrate the good and work with me to continue the path forward. Help me work on our shortcomings to make the city as a whole a better place to live and work. And please stop talking badly about your city… It’s the best community I’ve ever lived in.

I wish all of you a Happy New Year and I look forward to a great 2019.

 

Housing Committee Meeting – Rental Housing

The Housing Committee met on September 6th to discuss Rental Housing in the City of Middletown.   Forty-seven percent of Middletown housing is rental housing.  In the rest of Butler County, only 28.5% of total housing is rental.  That means we are carrying the heaviest load for rental property in the county.

As with home ownership, I presented census data showing rental housing rates in Middletown, the rest of Butler County, the State of Ohio and the United States as a whole.

Ohio as a state has 34% of its total housing as rental units.  The United States rental rate is at 36.4%. We are more than 13% higher in rental housing than the state as a whole.

At our previous meeting on home ownership, the committee recommended that we set a home ownership goal in the City of Middletown at 63.6%, equal to the United States home ownership rate. If that is our recommended home ownership rate, then the math leaves us with a rental housing rate of 36.4%, or a reduction of more than 10% from current levels.

Converting percentages to houses, we’d need to convert over 2000 rentals into home ownership to meet our goal.

We then talked about subsidized housing in Middletown, a subset of our rental housing.  We discussed the increase in Section 8 during the early 2000’s and the effect it had on increasing poverty in the city and adding out of town landlords to our housing mix.  When you add low income housing tax credit properties to our BMHA housing units, 12.8% of all our housing is subsidized and/or low income housing.  As a percentage of total housing, that number is much higher than the rest of the state.

We moved from subsidized housing to the use of single family homes as rental units.  As with overall rentals and with subsidized housing, our use of single family homes as rental units is also well beyond the rest of Butler County and the State of Ohio.

We talked about some of the tools we could use to reduce rental units overall and single family units being used as rentals specifically.  Those tools included:

  • Add New Homeowner Housing
  • Add New Market Rate Multi-Family Units
  • Demolish Poor Quality Rentals
  • Remove Single Family Rentals in the Industrial Buffer Area
  • Fill Vacant Houses with Homeowners
  • Convert Single Family Rentals Back to Home ownership
  • Adding a Single Family Rental Tax – Revenue to Nuisance Abatement Fund

Finally, we talked about rental registration. Many Ohio communities have a rental licensing program of some type incorporated into their property maintenance code.

We discussed current code enforcement efforts and existing ordinances that are on the books but not always fully enforced due to lack of city inspectors and budget.  It is my recommendation that if we are going to look at rental registration in the future, we should start by adding sufficient code enforcement staff to fully enforce the ordinances we already have in place.  If that becomes insufficient to keep both home owners and landlords from doing bad things with their properties, then we can look at additional tools to further address remaining problem areas.

For more information about the meeting or to view the presentation and materials discussed at the meeting, please click the link below.

https://www.cityofmiddletown.org/487/Housing-Information

Third Quarter City Reports

Staff has turned in their reports for the third quarter. As always, I’m amazed at how much work gets done quietly and without fanfare throughout the city.

During the Third Quarter of this year, July, August and September….

Human Resources processed 9 new city employees and processed out 17 employees leaving employment with the city.

In the Division of Fire, calls for fire service were down significantly from third quarter this year (619) compared to the same time in 2017 (815). EMS runs were slightly up for the same quarter, 2,440 in 2017, compared to 2504 this year during the same time period.

Building Inspection processed 478 permits with a construction value of $18,220,659.00, and completed 1,139 inspections during the third quarter.

Middletown Division of Police continues to see drops in crime. Part One crimes, the most serious crimes, have dropped year to date from 2,472 crimes in 2017 down to 1,997 crimes for the same period this year. Calls for service have shown a similar decline from 31,191 in 2017, down to 20,005 year to date in 2018.  The reduction in calls for service allows our officers to be more proactive in preventing crime and we hope the trend continues. It also improves our response times. Response to Priority One calls for service was at 6.2 minutes last year. With the reduction in call volume, MPD has dropped that response time to 3.4 minutes in 2018.

The Law Department reviewed 200 contracts year to day, prepared 98 pieces of legislation for City Council’s consideration, and the Municipal Court and Prosecutor’s are working on 10,303 open cases including 756 felonies, 3,124 misdemeanors, 221 OVI (drunk driving) cases, and 6, 202 traffic cases.

The Health Department year to date has inspected 427 food service operations, completed 117 swimming pool inspections, handled 84 animal bites, completed 35 indigent cremations, issued 3,580 birth certificates and issued 2,963 death certificates.

Public Works completed repairs on 602 traffic signals year to date, spent 1,746 hours working special events in the city, completed cleaning of 15,602 linear feet of sewer mains, completed 1,929 lane miles of street sweeping, and made repairs to 318 street signs.   They’ve treated 5,938 million gallons of wastewater, repaired 67 water mains, and produced 2,865 million gallons of drinking water.

I’m always proud of the hard working staff at the city. When compared to comparable cities nearby,  your city staff completes roughly the same work load with more than 100 less full time employees (FTE) than our surrounding neighbors.

We do our best to give you top quality service and respect the tax dollars that you give us to complete the work.

Have a great week!

City Pop. FTE
Middletown 48694 395
Hamilton 62477 529
Springfield 60608 558
Kettering 56163 572

 

City Charter Amendments

Election Day is November 6, and there are a few City Charter amendments on the ballot this year.

The three City Charter amendments are on the ballot as issues 6, 7 and 8 in Butler County. In Warren County, they are issues 22, 23 and 24. Here is a brief explanation of each issue and why it is being proposed.

Issue 6 and 22: The purpose of this proposal is to remove language from the charter related to the transition of City Council from five at-large members to seven members (four from wards and three at-large) and back to five at-large (directly elected mayor and four council members). This proposal is a “clean-up” matter. These sections of the Charter have been rewritten on several occasions starting in 1990 to implement the adoption of the ward elections, provide for the direct election of the mayor and ultimately to rescind the election of council members by ward and return to an all at-large membership. The language changes provide a simpler description of the composition and election of City Council. These amendments do not change the make-up or operation of City Council.

Issue 7 and 23: The purpose of this proposal is to eliminate the Charter requirement that a copy of the City’s Annual Report be maintained at the Public Library. The advance of technology makes this a “win-win” proposition for the citizens of Middletown. Traveling to the local library to obtain a copy of the City’s annual report is certainly more burdensome than calling it up on a computer or other electronic device. Even if a citizen does not own an electronic device, he/she can obtain the report by contacting the Clerk of City Council. This change moves the City from a purely “paper” world to “paperless” options.

Issue 8 and 24: The purpose of this proposal is to replace requirements in the Charter that certain legislation and notifications of certain public hearings be published in the newspaper with publication by electronic media. Article IV of the Charter addresses legislation. Certain matters are required to be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the City. Specifically, the first ordinance in a series of measures involving special assessments for street improvements or ordinances pertaining to franchises, rates or civil service cannot be passed as emergency measures absent a public hearing which requires notice in a newspaper of general circulation in the City. In addition, second readings must be similarly published. Finally, ordinances of a general or permanent nature, or providing for public improvements or assessing property must be published in not more than two newspapers. Newspaper publication is no longer an effective method of public notice. First a declining number of people subscribe to newspapers and there is little evidence to support the theory that legal notices in the newspaper are a primary means of providing information to the general public. Moreover, there is cost associated with newspaper publication. This change eliminates mandated expenditure for the publication. Electronic publication is a more efficient and effective means of reaching citizens of the City with this information.

Housing Meeting, August 9 – Home Ownership

The August 9th meeting of the Housing Committee focused on Home Ownership in Middletown. During the Great Recession, so many people lost their homes that at the worst of the crisis, the city had over 3,000 vacant houses in the city. We struggled with lower city revenues to keep those vacant homes in compliance and to keep the grass mowed and to keep people from squatting in abandoned houses.

After the recession, there was a shift in many people’s thoughts on home ownership in general. Some had lost their home and never wanted to be in that position again. Others lost a home and their credit was so badly damaged that they couldn’t have become homeowners again if they wanted to buy a home.

We started the discussion with whether home ownership matters at all in this post-foreclosure crisis housing market? If it does, is there an ideal level of home ownership that we should be striving towards in Middletown? How does home ownership affect neighborhood stability and the goal to have a balance of housing options available to people wanting to live in Middletown?

We talked about the typical housing cycle that most of us go through in our life times.  We live at home… we move out to our first, cheap apartment… we get a better apartment as we get a little money…  we become first time home buyers… we move up in our career and have children and at some point move into whatever our largest and most expensive house is going to look like… and then we become empty-nesters… and finally retirees.

If we are going to recruit and retain quality families to live in Middletown, we need housing for all of those potential life cycle points and enough available housing that if you live here or want to move here, there are enough choices available to fit your individual needs.

That being said, does having the housing available necessarily mean that we must have homeowners living in the available housing?

We started with a review of how our home ownership rates compare to the rest of Butler County, the State of Ohio and the United States as a whole. Middletown’s home ownership rate is at 52.6%. The remainder of Butler County has 71.5% home ownership.  The State of Ohio has 66% home ownership overall and the United States has 63.6% home ownership across the country. Those data points are from the U.S. Census.

If you take percentages and transform them into houses, then for Middletown housing to look like the rest of Ohio (at 66% home ownership), we would need to convert 2,627 rental units back to home ownership.

I next asked the question more thoroughly as to whether home ownership really stabilizes neighborhoods. I provided two fairly lengthy articles that came to different conclusions. One was clearly yes. The other one said that homeowners are attracted to stable, low crime neighborhoods and therefore the correlation is not clear whether ownership causes stability or whether stability increases ownership levels?

I asked the committee whether we should set a home ownership goal for the city. The answer was that we should, and it made sense to them to start at the lower end of the census numbers in front of us and work towards the higher percentages. With that in mind, we said we would start with a goal of moving home ownership from 52.6% up to the US level of 63.6%.

I then laid out some of the tools that other communities have used to increase home ownership. Keep in mind that home ownership percentages go up not only by adding homeowners, but also by reducing rentals. Both tip the scales in the right direction. We looked at the following tools:

  • Add New Housing
  • Demolish Poor Quality Rentals
  • Fill Vacant Houses with Homeowners
  • Land Bank Home Renovation to Homeowners
  • Down Payment Assistance – Targeted
  • In-fill New Home Construction – Targeted
  • Housing Incentives to Professionals (City/School/Hospital/Artists?)
  • Housing Incentives to Recent College Graduates (Hamilton program)
  • Incentive to Relocate to Fill Open Jobs in the City (Workforce Development)
  • Lease to Own Program (Have Job/Bad Credit)
  • Land Cooperative (Have Job/ Low Income)
  • Renovation Programs – 203K, Others Grants/Loan Available to New Home Purchasers

We talked briefly about the issue of gentrification. If we recruit a large number of new homeowners to a particular neighborhood, especially if we are recruiting professionals to move into what has been a traditionally low income or minority neighborhood, how does that change the nature and culture of that neighborhood and does the increase in property values and home improvements and paved streets, etc., offset the changes caused by the new homeowners? That’s a question we’ll have to discuss more deeply as we pick a neighborhood for revitalization and look specifically at the housing and demographics of those individual homes.

For more information about the meeting or to view the presentation and materials discussed at the meeting, please click the link below.

https://www.cityofmiddletown.org/487/Housing-Information