County to ask voters to help sheriff#039;s office

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 28, 2005

Outdated cars, manpower shortages, inadequate equipment, cramped jail space.

Lawrence County Sheriff Tim Sexton has often lamented that his

budget does not allow for basic necessities, much less anything else.

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The Lawrence County Commission Tuesday took steps to find new ways to solve the sheriff's dilemma by asking Lawrence County voters to get on board.

The Commission approved plans to place a levy on the November ballot that would provide funding for the sheriff's office. Commissioners also created a committee to put plans in place for a new jail, in case the state makes funding available for such a project.

In proposing the resolution calling for the levy, Commissioner George Patterson said such a levy would be specific to the sheriff's office, which includes the county jail "in order for the sheriff's office to acquire what is necessary for the department.

Additional money is needed, and it's absolutely not in the general fund. This year we've certified (revenues) less than last year but that doesn't decrease his need and we understand that. Ohio law does not provide any other means for counties to generate money."

"The sheriff's office definitely needs the extra money but we don't have it," Commissioner Doug Malone agreed. "I think most tax increases should be put before the voters, if at all possible."

Neither Patterson nor Commissioner Doug Malone said they were certain how much money would be needed, but that they would seek input from Sexton on the matter.

Lawrence County Chief Deputy Auditor Chris Kline said a one-mil levy, for instance, would generate $670,000 a year.

The amount each household would pay is based on property values. For a house valued at $100,000, $35 would be assessed yearly toward that one-mil levy. Levies can be in place for five years and must be renewed by voters.

The stagnant budget and soaring costs associated with road patrols, jail operation and dozens of state mandates and requirements has long been a subject of discussion.

The sheriff's office last year spent

$1,790,143.52. The largest line item is salaries for the department's 30-40 employees - for deputies alone, that figure is $1,371,000.

Last week, Sexton told the commission he needed 10 new cruisers to replace the outdated ones his deputies drive now, some of which have accumulated more than 100,000 miles each.

In late 2003, Sexton asked for more money to increase road patrols. Often, he said at that time, only two deputies are available to cover the 450 square miles between Athalia and Hanging Rock, Oak Hill and South Point.

In 2003, deputies answered more than 10,000 calls for help.

While Sexton did announce late last year the opening of a satellite office in Rome Township, the office is only used for filing reports and interviewing witnesses; there is no money to staff it full-time, something eastern end residents have repeatedly asked for.

Sexton said at the beginning of the year when he took office he would like to see formal discussion on construction of a new jail. The current one, built in 1970s, often houses as many as 79 inmates in space designed for 58.

Patterson said the jail committee would devise plans that would be ready if state funding became available.

"It stands to reason if you have a proposal, you have a better chance of getting funded," he said. "Back years ago, we put water out Cannons Creek into Arabia and it was because they made money available and we had plans in place.

"Other counties didn't have plans ready and they didn't get funded. We know the need is there, we want to be ready if that time comes about."