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Auditor to air fiscal woes with officials

Lawrence County Auditor Ray Dutey will meet twice next week with county officeholders, to discuss in detail the county's fiscal troubles.

Dutey and Chris Kline, his chief deputy auditor, met with the Lawrence County Commission last week and said that if spending continues at the current level, the county may experience a $3,000 shortfall by the end of the year.

"If something doesn't give, I'm going to move for a freeze on spending," Commission President George Patterson said. "If we can't get a spirit of cooperation and there are no other funding sources available, what can we do? We're getting it (money) taken away by the state. They generate for themselves in Columbus but don't allow for the generation of money here. I don't see a light at the end of the tunnel. Everyone has to understand that."

Patterson said, however, that the commission is prepared to do whatever can be done to help keep the sheriff's office staffed at its current level. The sheriff's office has previously funded the salaries of five road deputies with a COPS grant. The grant has expired. Patterson said he does not want to see any deputies cut.

"When it comes to emergencies, if we didn't have effective law enforcement this would not be a pleasant place to live," Patterson said.

Also Thursday, the commission agreed to discuss with South East Ohio Emergency Medical Services Executive Director Eric Kuhn about when the county can expect surplus monies from that entity. Kuhn told the commission earlier this month that in closing the books for the fiscal year that ended June 30, the emergency services agency had a surplus of $182,655.28. Kuhn had requested to be able to keep approximately $80,000 for various SEOEMS projects.

Commissioner Jason Stephens said the surplus SEOEMS monies could be used to pay back part of the $500,000 loan the commission borrowed last year from the half-cent sales tax fund, thus reducing one of the county's financial headaches.

The half-cent sales tax was enacted in 1998 to pay for emergency services, 911 and the emergency management agency. The commission late last year borrowed money, anticipating a budget shortfall. The money was to have been paid back over a 10-year period.