Archived Story

Sheriff’s office may see layoffs

Published 12:13am Sunday, January 6, 2013

Lawless to ask for more in 2013 budget 

 

What the Lawrence County Commissioners decide on Thursday may determine if layoffs are imminent at the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office.

That’s when Sheriff Jeff Lawless plans to ask the commission to reconsider his 2013 budget. If the answer is no more money this year, the result may be a county without a jail or fewer road deputies.

“My budget was cut 23 and a half percent, which leaves me about $270,000 in road patrol and another $10,000 short in corrections and a lot of line items were cut out as far as vehicle maintenance,” Lawless said. “We couldn’t make it through 2012 (without additional appropriations). How in the world can we protect Lawrence County with any less employees. We are so understaffed over the last five or six years already. The public should be outraged, especially when it comes to the jail. We need to get the jail back up to state code and without funds, you can’t do that.”

On Dec. 20, the commissioners adopted a $13,911,305 budget out of certified revenue of $14,306,610, reducing the amount of carryover to go into 2014 to $395,000, or a cut of 40 percent of the carryover amount certified for 2012.

Last year the commissioners adopted a budget of $13,181,135, but actually spent $14.5 million. In 2012 certified revenue was $14,704,358.

The few increases in appropriations for next year over this year came in the jail fund that went from $325,000 to $400,000 and the 911 dispatching fund. That was $455,000 in 2012 but will be $625,000 next year.

But those increases do not offset other cuts in his budget, the sheriff says.

“I’m working on some numbers,” he said. “Do we shut the jail down and keep the road deputies or try to manage the jail in its condition and half the road deputies we have? There are some scenarios that have to be worked out. This is a dire situation for the sheriff’s office and whether or not the citizens of Lawrence County continue to have vital law enforcement protection.”

Repeatedly the county jail has received poor marks from the state inspectors and is classified as consistently overcrowded.

“It has been neglected far too long,” Lawless said. “We are at a point of where (the commissioners) are going to have to seriously consider putting money into this facility or shutting it down.”

Last year 911 emergency dispatching was placed under the jurisdiction of the sheriff and this year’s budget cuts could also hamper or even shut down that operation, Lawless says.

“They cut that budget by $200,000,” he said. “We may be faced with not having a 911 service on top of having a severely cut budget.”

Such a cut could mean operating the service with a single dispatcher per shift, Lawless said.

“We could probably manage it when nothing is going on,” he said. “But if Rome has a fire and Coal Grove a wreck, that’s not safe for the public. If that is how we have to manage to keep it operating, the service they will get is limited.”

If Lawless makes layoffs, they could go into effect by the end of February since unions must receive a 60-day notice.

“(The commissioners) have neglected to fund the sheriff’s office and the jail properly for the last several years and it is catching up on them,” he said.

Commissioner Bill Pratt said there is $258,000 in the half percent sales tax fund that has not been appropriated and that could go to the 911 dispatching. That would still leave dispatching $75,000 short.

“If I were them, I would keep cool for a couple of months to see how our first two months of sales tax is,” Pratt said. “In February we will get what our Christmas sales tax is and in January we will get our first quarterly casino payment. We will have an idea of how our revenues will come in. If I were Jeff, I wouldn’t do anything drastic for six weeks.”

However, if sales tax and casino revenue come in lower than expected, officeholders would not have any other alternative but to have lay offs, Pratt said.

“I would hate to close the jail,” Pratt said. “We will do what we can to help, but if he has to, he is the sheriff. I think we can fund 911 and not worry about it. I don’t want to make any big decisions until that sales tax revenue comes in.”

 

 

 

 

  • RUNutz

    I don’t know the division percentage of traffic and parking violation(s) fines among the various involved entities (i.e., Sheriff’s Office, Municipal Court, etc.); however, I do feel the Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart parking areas in South Point are an untapped treasure to generate more revenue. On every visit there, I see vehicles parked in handicapped slots without either the necessary license plates or hanging placard; vehicles parked on striped, yellow lined areas, which are not legal parking; and, a majority of the violators have West Virginia license plates. When I asked a South Point officer about this, he informed me those parking lots are the jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s Office. So, Sheriff Lawless, if you want more revenue, go get it.

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  • Ironton Cares

    Thank you south point but I have seen all of this just with my own eyes how many police officers hang out their with the deputies that are suppose to be working. Bill Pratt has his opinion on Jeff Lawless but so does everyone else. He has shown me nothing but holding his hand out for more money, don’t you think our taxes are high enough in this measly area? The 911 service we definitely need but the Sheriffs Dept ran by Lawless we don’t, and he certainly should not have had that turned over to him, I still say the state should take over and run it until I am blue in the face. And I wish someone had run against him, I would have went door to door for them.

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  • SRG

    I appreciate Mr. Pratt being willing to put additional info out there. It makes it sound like it should all be ok & the facts about the additional dollar amounts brought in for 2011 & 2012 should be included in this article, along with why the extra comes in. All the same, it’s very confusing that there is a 2012 budget of 13 million that was passed for some reason as plausible, but now a 14 million dollar budget a year later isn’t enough. What is missing?

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  • big d

    I was not going to comment but after the great comments made I felt the need!! Ok so lets say that you get rid of 911 ( cause in your comment it said law enforcement was the most important) You are at home with your 6 y/o son or daughter and they start turning blue they are choking and they stop breathing, You pick up the phone and dial 911 oh no a recording “leave a message and an officer will get back to you when they check their messages” Your kid is still not breathing!!! OK now lets say you are at home it is 3am in the morning and you wake up to the smoke detector going off. You open your door to go get your child out of bed but you cant get to them because of the flames!!! You dial 911 and the same recording ” Leave a message and an officer will get back to you” 911 is very important in this County!!! Having an officer is just as important!! When cuts need to be made as they do NOW cut the jail!! I am not stating get rid of it because that is not the answer!!! Look on line and look out in Arizona the Sheriff put up tents and fed them bologna!!! We have people in Lawrence Co that get hungry or need a place to stay so they commit a crime!! This is CRAZY!! They are criminals treat them as such!!! Why should our families suffer so an inmate can eat steak on Sundays???? I don’t have the money to eat like them and apparently they don’t either!!!! Call your Commissioners and Sheriff Lawless and tell them to make the right decisions!!!! Don’t let our families SUFFER over this!!!!

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  • BillPratt

    SRG makes some good points. This brings to mind my conversations with other office holders from time to time. I have said on multiple occasions that the budget appropriations are not over until the year is over. So it seems a little premature to be so up in arms on the 7th of January.

    In 2011 we had an additional certification of $500,000 by the budget commission. In 2012 we had an additional $400,000 added. If our sales tax comes in equal to 2012 and the casino money is equal to what the state projects for us we will have an additional $1.3 million in revenue but we need a portion of that for a carryover going into 2014.

    The budget commission has made conservative estimates. I can assure you, there will not be an additional certification in January.

    As for the additional spending in 2012, yes it was an election year. In fact there were two elections. And with that came with some unfunded mandates from our state for extended early voting hours and absentees sent to every voter, etc. We made an additional appropriation of over $100,000 to cover this office. We also invested in a new computer system that vastly improved their operations.

    In 2012, gas remained nearly $4.00 for much of the year, we had a pregnant murder suspect that gave birth during her in incarceration, we housed many criminals out of county, and we absorbed the felony 4 and 5 criminals into our system. The Sheriff also responsibly took over the dispatching of the Ironton IPD when the city of Ironton could no longer afford to do so. These circumstances had Jeff coming to us for help on multiple occasions. We did what we could to help knowing EXACTLY what was coming in 2013. In total, his office got nearly $500,000 added and it still wasn’t easy.

    The EMS was faced with the same fuel issues and we appropriated another $155,000 for them. The Juvenile Center was appropriated an additional $75,000. The County Court had the roof and HVAC system replaced. The jail had $40,000 in repairs made because of a cracked wall and a failure of the $20,000 hot water system.

    All that being said, it was difficult but we made it through. Now we have less available to us. Will there be additional revenue available to be certified? I certainly hope so. Can I know that on January 7th? Absolutely not.

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  • SRG

    Based on this article, in 2012, the commissioners overspent their budget by over a million. The budget was 13.2 million and they spent 14.5 million. Wow. I recall they paid enough to redo the fair barn nearly twice. Who knows what other unneeded bungles they got into. I know this, had they stayed even close to the plan for 2012, they’d had an extra million for the Sheriff and the EMS this year.

    They knew the state money was drying up. Anybody who followed the national news could have picked this up. An elected official should have know for sure. It’s going on all over the nation. But they overspent by $1,300,000. Wow.

    And everybody knows the cost of doing business goes up every year. You plan for it.

    Did I mention 2012 was an election year? Congratulations on your re-election.

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  • mikehaney

    Having done many different jobs, for the same company, and never hesitated to ask questions, I’m not about to offer suggestions; with absolutely no experience in trying to run a county on a budget.
    Thanks for the input, BillPratt.

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  • RUNutz

    The county commissioners are politicians. The City of Ironton is governed by politicians. The villages have their own level of politicians. By definition: Politics is the art of postponing a decision until it is no longer relevant.

    (Report comment)

  • BillPratt

    Before we as the commissioners take too much of a beating on this issue, I’d like to make a few comments. First of all, I have the utmost respect for Sheriff Lawless and admire the work ethic and dedication he and his staff put forth in protecting our county. We have all worked hard to make sure that office is funded as best it could be. Unfortunately, our funding is limited.

    We have several sources of revenue. A one percent sales tax, a one half percent sales tax, local government funding from the state, the new casino revenue, interest, and property taxes (75% of property taxes go to our schools). All of these make up our general fund. A budget commission made up of the county Auditor, Prosecuting Attorney, and Treasurer work together and come up with and estimated total revenue. This is certified as the total amount available for the commissioners to appropriate. The certified amount is conservative, and rightfully so, because several of those sources of revenue are not guaranteed, i.e. sales tax and casino money.

    Some of the sources of revenue have been much lower than in previous years. For example, the local government fund that was $1.3 million in 2010 is now half that. And we all know what has happened to interest rates. Fortunately, the state has designed a replacement for the local government fund. Unfortunately, this replacement, the casino allotment, is unpredictable.

    So, we as commissioners have a set amount of money we can spend. If one considers we have modest increases in cost each year and little to no increase in revenues then we have few options. A 3% in increase in costs amounts to $450,000 in a years time. So what are we to do?

    The first step is to make revenue and expenses match. In order to do that, we implemented a 23.5 % cut to all salary line items. In my opinion, each office is important for the county to be able to operate effectively. We must all work together to provide adequate services, so the burden of making that happen with limited resources must be shared. As a county, we cannot print money, we cannot borrow money for operating expenses.

    So what are our options? Are the citizens protected? Are they satisfied with the services provided and if not are they willing to pay more for them?

    One possibility is tax levy. Personally, I do not favor additional tax levies that place the burden on property owners. One option mentioned is a Public Utilities Tax (Ohio Revised Code 324). This allows a 2% tax on electricity, phone, and natural gas. A 3% tax can be placed on businesses. Although, I am not recommending this, I feel it is much more fair than a levy. Just as an example: if each residence had utilities of $330 per month and this applied to 20,000 households in the county, it would total $6.60 per household per month and generate over $1.5 million in revenue for a struggling police force.

    So, there you have it. We have done what we can to make the numbers work. It is quite difficult. We will do everything possible to help our Sheriff. He deserves it.

    By the way, no money has been spent to remodel the Commissioners office since I have been in office. $5000 was spent several years back.

    Thanks for reading.

    Bill Pratt
    Lawrence County Commissioner

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  • swampcreature

    Pratt recently suggested a 2-percent tax on all utilities to help fund the county. Now, we are hearing our sheriff won’t have enough money for road patrols and our jail could close.

    I wonder if this type of article isn’t simply preparing the sheep of Lawrence County for a good milking.

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  • Ozzy

    Amen Poor Richard!

    The commissioners spent a ton of money remodeling their office and the The Auditor has remodeled his office two or three times for hundreds of thousands of dollars and our protection is ignored??? The Commissioners seem to always have money for their “honey” projects but not for what is truely important.

    With no jail will we have these criminals right back in our neighborhoods?

    With no Deputies to respond to our calls for help when we are being robbed, or to keep our children safe what are we to do?

    Commissioners, what say you???

    (Report comment)

  • Poor Richard

    With the amount of crime in this county and drug heads that take up about 70% of the space in this county – the commissioners better reconsider their budget. If the commissioners think Lawrence County citizens are going to put up with even more criminals because there is no one around to deal with them you best think again.

    I understand the jail issues but I really do not care about the scum thrown in the jail. Don’t care if they have to sleep in their own filth on the floor. If they don’t like jail, then they should not be committing crimes. Personally, I think they should be in tents outside!

    Why exactly does 911 dispatching cost $625,000 a year?? Isn’t that taking phone calls and dispatching them to the appropriate reponders? What are we paying for? So the commissioners want to fund 911 but there will be no one to respond to the calls?

    There is NOTHING in this county more important than law enforcement, keeping people safe, and putting the scum in prison – NOTHING!

    Maybe if the commissioners resigned, we could use their salary for law enforcement, I think it would be a better use of funds!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    (Report comment)

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