Highland County Sheriff Donnie Barrera and Chief Deputy Brandon Stratton are pictured during the Sept 4. Highland County commissioners meeting. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Highland County Sheriff Donnie Barrera and Chief Deputy Brandon Stratton are pictured during the Sept 4. Highland County commissioners meeting. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Highland County commissioners Jeff Duncan, Terry Britton and Gary Abernathy heard requests for new vehicles and a new camera system from the Highland County sheriff during their Wednesday, Sept. 4 meeting.

Sheriff Donnie Barrera, along with Chief Deputy Brandon Stratton, attended Wednesday’s meeting, where Barrera discussed needed upgrades to the Highland County Justice Center’s camera system as well as to their fleet of vehicles.

According to Barrera, Stanley, the company maintaining the current surveillance camera system at the Justice Center, told the sheriff their system has reached the “end of its life span” and can no longer be upgraded.

Stanley has provided a new quote to upgrade the system, including increasing their number of cameras from 47 to 71, with seven cameras being “24 hours a day, 365 days a year, recording where we can store it.” The plan would also add “two new work stations in central control where they can monitor” with 32-inch LCD TVs in two different areas, instead of the one “old big TV” that is currently in that area. Monitoring would also be set up in the sheriff’s office and the chief deputy’s office. Abernathy said the quote also provided for “remote viewing” for those connected to the WiFi system.

“The upgrade will take a little bit of time, and I know the price is significant,” Barrera said. “It’s about $131,525.”

In December 2018, Barrera and representatives of Aramark had presented commissioners with a proposal to purchase body scanners for the department, which were estimated at around $120,000. A backup 911 microwave system installed at the HCSO earlier this year was estimated to save money on their phone bill, with that funding to be put toward purchasing the body scanners. Barrera told commissioners Wednesday that the necessity of updating the camera system now outweighs the body scanners.

“Our camera system is something we absolutely need,” Barrera said. “I think it’s something we unfortunately have to look into.”

Duncan said that the current camera system is “the original system” from when the Justice Center opened.

“I hate you for you to not get the body scanners, because I know it’s also needed, but I think you’re right. This is more urgent,” Abernathy told Barrera.

Barrera said he hoped the body scanner proposal would be “feasible in the future” as prices go down.

Britton asked if Barrera had obtained quotes from any other companies. The sheriff said that he had not and that Stanley has been “good to us” for 20 years, but that he would reach out to other law enforcement agencies — including the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office and Warren County Sheriff’s Office, both of which are upgrading their facilities — to discuss their camera systems.

“I know cameras are very important, just from a safety side,” Britton said.

The sheriff agreed. “The camera system has saved law enforcement and saved inmates,” he said.

No action was taken on the camera system upgrades, pending other estimates. In addition to the camera systems, Barrera provided quotes from several area dealerships for vehicle upgrades to the department’s fleet. The sheriff said that the current van used to transport inmates to court is “in and out of the shop a lot” and said the best deal they found was a van from Jerry Haag Motors, to which Stratton said they would be able to add bars.

Abernathy asked what the vans were used for and how many inmates were generally transported. Barrera said the number “varies,” and whether there are both male and female inmates being transported also affects the corrections officers needed and whether inmates need to be “segregated.”

Barrera said that they estimate a 10-15-year life span for a new van and that the department could use money from the commissary fund to pay for cages for the interior, which he thought would be $3,000 or $4,000. The department’s old van, which has over 140,000 miles, could also be either sold or auctioned, Barrera told commissioners.

Barrera also provided quotes for 2020 Ford Explorer Police Interceptors, which were approximately $33,000 to $34,000 without lights, which would be “another probably $4,000.” Britton asked if the department was seeking two new cars.

“Of course I’d like more, but two would help us tremendously, to get us going back in the right direction,” Barrera said.

Stratton told commissioners the department is “going through about three vehicles a year, mileage-wise,” with “three vehicles in patrol right now at over 140,000 miles.”

“There is only one vehicle budgeted this year, and you’re wanting three,” Britton said.

Abernathy told Barrera the sheriff’s office needs “to have a pattern of” seeking two vehicles per year so the county can try to budget for them.

“That way we have a regular rotation,” Abernathy said. “For budgeting purposes, it does help.”

Duncan said the county may be able to purchase one now and look into purchasing a second vehicle “toward the end of the year.” Barrera suggested that they could also talk to Highland County Clerk of Courts Ike Hodson to see if there is any additional money in the title fund.

Abernathy said that the van is “a cut and dry issue” and moved to approve its purchase Wednesday, while commissioners look into the budget for purchasing the patrol vehicles and the camera system. Commissioners voted 3-0 to approve the purchase of a 2020 Chevrolet Express work van in the amount of $28,625.

• • •

Commissioners also heard a proposal Wednesday on an energy and gas program offered in conjunction with the County Commissioners Association of Ohio (CCAO). Attending the commissioners’ meeting were CCAO managing director of operations Keith Blosser and Palmer Energy consultant Amy Hoffman.

Blosser said the energy program includes participation from 68 of Ohio’s 88 counties. Blosser outlined benefits to joining the CCAO’s energy program:

• That they save time and money by obtaining bids for energy as required by law, doing this on behalf of the counties;

• That Palmer Energy works to achieve “the best rates possible” for participating counties; and

• That representatives have a say in the program’s governance as participating counties can elect members to, or serve on, the CCAO Energy Board of Participants.

“We started it for the counties, to benefit the counties, and we do very, very well because of it,” Blosser said of the energy program. “It’s governed by the county commissioners. It’s completely independent. We do everything for you.”

Hoffman also explained Palmer Energy’s role with the program, as the CCAO describes the company as the “third party working on behalf of the counties” (according to ccao.org). As a consultant, Hoffman said that she works with “eight to 10 different suppliers on the electric side at any given time,” along with “six to eight” suppliers for gas. She would look at the county’s current rates, get “competitive pricing” from the suppliers and provide detailed information for the county to look at before entering their next contract.

“We’re very transparent,” Hoffman told commissioners. “We would put together a recommendation going through each of the points.

“Our fee is one mill — that’s the CCAO contract price for electrics — so when we go out to different suppliers and put all of their terms and conditions into the recommendation, that one mill is in there. When I come back to you with a fixed rate at 12, 24 or 36 months, that has our fee in it, and when whichever supplier wins the bid, that’s how we get paid.”

Blosser emphasized that one mill is “.001 cent.” “Everyone should always tell you what their fee is,” Hoffman added. “I doubt that you’ll find less than a mill out there.”

Hoffman said that they consider each county’s needs individually when making a recommendation, then give an option of the top three suppliers for the county to consider. That includes giving the contracts to the county prosecutor to review, then updating the prices for the top three suppliers.

Blosser said counties receive “unbiased information, and we break it down and make it easy to understand.”

“It’s just a recommendation. You’re in total control,” Blosser told commissioners. “You tell us if you want to take the recommendation or don’t want the recommendation.”

Hoffman also said that they provide support throughout the contract if any issues arise.

Abernathy asked if other area counties participate in this program. Hoffman said some nearby counties, including Clinton, Fayette, Greene and Ross, do. Blosser pointed out that the CCAO also works with the Ohio Municipal League for their energy program, with the city of Hillsboro among its participants.

Abernathy emphasized that this option would be for county facilities, although Blosser and Hoffman said they are able to help with ballot initiatives for aggregation should there be interest. Hoffman said that if that is the case, she would work first with the County Township Association but can also work with villages and cities.

As previously reported, Highland County commissioners voted Aug. 14 to enter a three-year contract with Muirfield Energy for a 4.4 cents per kilowatt hour rate. Duncan told Blosser and Hoffman that they had just entered that contract “but don’t have anything that I’m aware of on the gas side.”

“Gas is different, a little simpler,” Hoffman said. “We have a pool group. All facilities’ meters in that particular utility, we have in a pool.

“What we go in and do is an RFP [request for proposal], like on the electric side, but we’re only fixing the adder or the basis, getting it from point A to point B.”

Hoffman said she could look at past gas bills for the county if they are interested in pursuing the gas program.

“I can look at your most recent bills, see what you’re doing and report back to you on comparisons of what our rates have been,” Hoffman said.

Blosser said there would be no cost involved in getting the comparison from Hoffman.

“If there’s not a lot of savings, then it was a great exercise and you have peace of mind that you guys are doing an excellent job,” he said. “If there’s a potential there or opportunity there for a tremendous amount of savings, it might be a good opportunity to jump in, get with the program, start out with gas and actually save money, participate and get exposed to all the other energy things coming up.

“It’s really a win-win or a no-downside proposition. It’s always up to you. We just want you to save money.”

Abernathy said that “doing a comparison makes sense.”

• • •

In other discussion:

• Duncan announced that Highland County Dog Warden Cathy Seifer has submitted her resignation, effective Sept. 28. Seifer was hired in 2012 and has served as dog warden since June 4, 2012, along with being a longtime volunteer at the dog pound.

“We want to thank her for her years of service,” Duncan said. “She’s been good in that position, and we appreciate all she’s done for the county.”

Duncan said the commissioners would be seeking a replacement for Seifer in the near future.

Commissioners discussed, but did not vote on, two other estimates received by the county recently:

• An estimate from Quad County Service and Repair in the amount of $1,155.65 for servicing the generator at the Highland County Justice Center. Duncan said that the previous company used by the county was no longer providing these services. Britton suggested that the county compare their previous fee to ensure the “price was good.”

• A quote from Weller’s Plumbing and Heating for “annual maintenance” on county buildings. Duncan said commissioners would take action on that bid next week.

Commissioners approved the following resolutions, each by a 3-0 vote:

• A request from Recycling for an additional appropriation from unappropriated funds to Q-2 in the amount of $5,000.

• A request from the Highland County Law Library for a budget modification within S-58, Law Library, budget in the amount of $450.

• A request from Board of Elections for an additional appropriation from unappropriated funds to BOE, Supplies in the amount of $700.20.

• A modification from Transfers Out to Examinations – County of Highland in the amount of $274.70.

• A modification from Auditors Clerk Hire & Supplies to Dog and Kennel Other Expenses in the amount of $100.

Duncan also encouraged the community to continue to support the Highland County Fair, which runs through Sept. 7.