Rhoden family slaying investigation, upcoming trials stretch tight Pike County finances

Posted at 4:19 PM, Nov 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-16 22:08:36-05

WAVERLY, Ohio -- Pike County Commissioners Blaine Beekman and Tony Montgomery huddled Friday trying to figure a way out of the county's financial jam.

Every Pike County department head received a letter stating the county is switching to quarterly budgeting. Because revenues are down, cuts might be possible, and that doesn't even include the costs associated with trying members of the Wagner family for the Rhoden family killings.

"When revenues are down and expenses are up, you have to make cuts where you've got to make them," Montgomery said. "It's never popular. It's tough decisions, but we're there."

The Rhoden homicide investigation cost the county between $500,000 and $600,000.

"We got about $140,000 from the state, but the rest of it has been a general fund expenditure," Beekman said.

Now come the trials. That process began Thursday with arraignments of two of the six people charged in the case.

"The first estimate has been, with everything from the appeals and whatever, you're talking $2-4 million at a minimum," Beekman said.

That could put Pike County in a fiscal emergency situation, unless there's help from Columbus.

"Even if the state kicks in — the Attorney General's Office or whatever — to cover some of these costs, they would have to be covered up front or very quickly," Montgomery said.

The commissioners have talked to their state representatives about possible help, but that's still a work in progress. 

Jailing costs

Pike County is one of the few Ohio counties without a jail. That caused financial woes even before six people were arrested and charged in the Rhoden family killings.

The old county jail was built in 1869, right next to the courthouse. It was condemned due to structural problems and torn down in 2009. There's no money to replace it, so prisoners have to be housed elsewhere.

Pike County contracts with Butler County for prisoner housing, usually about 50 at a time for $60 per person per day. It's a 140-mile roundtrip. The cost this year will be $1.6 million. 

"Just in prisoner maintenance," Montgomery said. "That's not transport, that's not payroll, that's just what we pay to other jails."

The six Wagner family members charged in connection to the Pike County massacre are being housed in Butler, Delaware, Franklin, Pickaway and Ross counties. That means even more expenses.

"It's one thing if you have to send them away for 30 or 60 days on a drug charge," Beekman said. "These are capital murder cases. We don't know when we're going to get out of having them incarcerated."