Archived Story

Transfers delayed for 911 changes

Published 12:01am Sunday, January 13, 2013

The transfer of funds to keep 14 part-time 911 dispatchers and the full-time director on the job won’t happen until the Lawrence County Commissioners clarify to the county auditor what they want to have happen.

“It is hard to tell exactly what money is to be moved to which account and taken from which account,” County Auditor Jason Stephens said Friday after receiving instructions from the commission earlier that day.

Stephens’ request was in response to a letter from the commission to his office stating “Mr. Boggs offered a motion to make 911 stand alone give them a budget of $550,000 transfer $75,000 that we already appropriated to 911 over to the sheriff’s department along with an additional $150,000 from A02 (half-percent sales tax) Also to call back Lonnie Best, Supervisor 911, to call back all 911 dispatchers that received lay off notices.”

The auditor also sent a letter to Prosecuting Attorney Brigham Anderson seeking an opinion on the legality of the commissioners removing 911 from the sheriff’s office.

In the Ohio Revised Code 307.63, “the county sheriff shall operate the countywide public safety communications system unless before commencing operation of the system, the sheriff gives written notice to the board of county commissioners that he chooses not to do so.”

On Thursday the commissioners pulled 911 dispatching away from the jurisdiction of the sheriff’s office, a merger which they had approved in March when 911 and sheriff’s office dispatching were put under one jurisdiction.

The move was done after Sheriff Jeff Lawless went to commission seeking additional funds to keep from making drastic cuts in personnel from 911 and his office.

Stephens is seeking the clarifications in order to know who has the authority to approve payroll and purchase orders out of the 911 dispatching fund.

“We have to determine which account to pay (employees) out of if the sheriff is no longer authorized to pay payroll out of the 911 funds,” Stephens said. “We need to know that and since it happened without a date we need to know what effective date so we can calculate.”

However the need for the prosecutor’s opinion may be moot since Friday afternoon Lawless sent the commissioners a letter stating he was giving up authority over 911.

“In an effort to keep the 911 service fully operational and to keep 15 people employed, I agreed to give my 911 service back to the county,” Lawless said.

On Wednesday Lawless sent out layoff notices to five road deputies, the 14 dispatchers, the 911 director, a part-time corrections officer and a part-time sheriff’s dispatcher after the commission cut $400,000 from his budget.

In December the commissioners adopted a budget that mandated a 23.5 percent cut in salaries for all county offices.

In a 20-minute exchange between the sheriff and commissioners at Thursday’s meeting, Lawless repeatedly asked for funding to keep the deputies on the road and to run the 911 center. The sheriff was told that every officeholder had to make 23.5 percent cuts in salaries for the 2013 budget.

However, to prevent laying off the dispatchers, Commissioner Bill Pratt made a motion to transfer $150,000 from $258,000 in the half-percent sales tax account that was not appropriated for the 2013 budget.

But before the commissioners voted on that motion, Commission President Les Boggs proposed moving 911 dispatching from the sheriff’s office to free up an additional $75,000 on top of the $150,000 transfer. Boggs said that transfer would come from the 911 budget with the remaining funds equal to the amount spent to run 911 when it was an independent agency.

The $225,000 would be earmarked to fund the sheriff’s five dispatchers, removing them from the 911 budget.

Next Friday is the regular payday for county workers, but with 550 employees to be paid the auditor’s office begins the process a week in advance.

“Everybody is to get paid,” Stephens said. “Peopl

  • mulady1337

    Lawrence County is a rural area. There are few municipal police departments therefore most of the county is covered by the county Sheriff’s office for law enforcement. The county is covered by Volunteer fire departments save the city of Ironton itself. EMS saves lives! Lawrence County 911 is THE hub of all emergency services. We teach our kids to call 911 in an emergency. Dispatchers are trained to help people until someone gets there. These are ESSENTIAL services. Somehow, the county budget has to be modified to keep from cutting into already bare to the bone services that people’s lives literally depend on.
    The 911 dispatch center was put under the Sheriff’s office after the demise of SEOEMS and beginning of Lawrence County EMS. Money is tight everywhere. But essential is essential.

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  • bigkahuna

    Why would anyone want to hold public office in and arround Lawrence County?

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  • country girl

    Please would someone just tell me who is these dispatchers going to send to help the public when they call if you laid your front line off?? Help the ship is going down real fast.

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  • SRG

    Likewise for me.

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  • Mike Caldwell

    Bill,
    Like Poor Richard, I greatly appreciate you taking the time to respond and comment. It helps educate and inform readers, which is ultimately what we as a newspaper hope to accomplish.

    You know you and the other commissioners are free to submit guest columns at any time to be included in the print edition as well.

    Although I don’t agree with every decision, something that is clear on the opinion page, I respect the job you have to do and the willingness to put yourself out there.

    Mike Caldwell
    Publisher
    The Tribune

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  • BillPratt

    SRG, All I can tell you is that when someone in the county has an emergency, whether it be police related, a fire or a heart attack, those individuals expect to be able to call 911 and have someone answer. Because of that, 911 really is the heartbeat of any public safety system. Now, that’s not to say that the others are not very important.

    Because 911 has such a high number of part time employees, it was going to be very difficult to keep the phones manned. Union rules call for all part time employees to be laid off first. We fixed part of the puzzle but there a lot of holes yet to be filled.

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  • SRG

    I wouldn’t want to be included among those beating up on anyone, nor do I have a personal stake or knowledge, just concerned and wanting to understand. Mr. Pratt, your comments about across the board cuts seem logical to me. I still don’t understand why the 911 staffing seems to be kept the same when the rest are taking 23% cuts. Am I mistaken? If not, where is the prioritization there?

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  • BillPratt

    Thank you Poor Richard for the comments. It has been a difficult week to say the least. I have tried very hard to give all the facts so the citizens can at least be assured of transparency even if they do not agree with the final decisions. When some disagree with the across the board cuts they are also assuming that the office holders budgets were never prioritized in the past. I feel they have already been prioritized. I have and will continue to put the safety of the citizens ahead of other services that the county provides.

    One thing to consider is all the facets of the government that are involved when someone commits a crime. Each arrest involves the Sheriff’s office, the Prosecutor’s office, one of the Courts, either adult or juvenile probation and ultimately the jail or the juvenile center. In all, these consume about 70% of our budget. In addition to those we have the EMS and 911.

    Smaller parts of the budget include the Engineer, with one employee paid out of the general fund, our office with two, the Treasurer with four, Recorder with five and Auditor with eight. Also we have a state mandated share for veteran’s services that, by law, cannot be cut. About $400,000. Other parts of the budget include utilities and debt service. We have saved the county $80,000+ this year by negotiating with an electricity broker.

    Also, I should note that office holder salaries are predetermined by the state legislature and cannot be changed and have not increased for at least eight years that I know of.

    It is difficult to be beaten up when I know we have made the best decisions we could considering all the facts and the situation we are placed within; especially when it comes from those who already know the facts. Some have asked me why I bother to make these comments. I want to show that we are human and we CAN make mistakes, but at least I have given the public a transparent look into what prompted the decisions that have been made. Thanks again, for your insightful comments on this issue and many others.

    Bill Pratt
    Lawrence County Commissioner

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  • Poor Richard

    Commissioner Pratt, I wanted to thank you for the clarifications in a previous email regarding sheriff dept layoffs. There was no way to reply so I wanted to extend my appreciation by commenting within this article.

    One thing you said was if citizens were not happy with the service we are receiving from a county office that other options of funding would need exploration. Sometimes being uphappy with a county office may require that office to be held accountable for their spending; is it necessary, frivalous, too many on staff, disorganized, lazy, etc….funding is not always the culprit in an office being operated outside their bounds. As a citizen, I expect efficency, hard work, hiring the best people without nepotism, with always, front and center, their true employer in mind: the citizens.

    Is each office efficient? Not in my opinion but I haven’t scanned thru past expenditures – yet. That maybe where county commissioners need to step in. Don’t cut one of the most important offices in the county (sheriff) when so many other offices may be wasteful and not responsible for public safety.

    I think what it will take for citizens to really see what is going on with county funds would be to submit FOIA requests for past budgets with the itemized expenditures. We might be surprised by what we find.

    Necessary expenditures vs. non-necessary and wasteful expenditures.

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  • SRG

    Personally, I never liked the idea of making across the board cuts in all departments because it seems like a way to avoid prioritizing departments, or determining which could stand the biggest cuts and still do what is needed. Now I’m wondering why when it came time to start prioritizing dispatching seems to be the highest to this degree. It’s obviously important, but it seems strange to see it given not only protections from cuts but appropriated additional funds when other critical pieces are still taking big cuts. I’m just asking. Maybe it all comes out in the wash…

    (Report comment)

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