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Commissioner to push merger of 911, dispatching

When a financial planner gets worried, it usually means serious business.

Lawrence County Commissioner Jason Stephens, who in his private life is a Certified Financial Planner, said he is more than worried about the county's impending financial shape, he's sounding a siren of alarm.

Stephens said Monday that he plans on offering a possible remedy at today's Lawrence County Commission meeting.

"Sometimes we have to be on the verge of disaster before we can see things in a new light," Stephens said. "I really am worried about it. We can't keep doing the things we're doing and expect it to get better."

Stephens said he wants the county and, more important, its citizens to look at ways to reduce costs and redundant spending.

"The most obvious area of redundancy is under the current method of dispatching," he said, adding the county sheriff has six dispatchers and the county's 911 office has 14, consisting of both part-time and full-time workers.

Stephens said the county auditor estimates that the sheriff's office will be short more than $500,000 by the end of the fiscal year.

That means three options must happen in the coming months, he said.

&t;The sheriff's office will run out of money and be forced to shut down.

&t;Staffing at the sheriff's office will need to be cut drastically and the office will operate on a skeleton crew.

&t;The sheriff and the commissioners will work together to find a solution to eliminate redundant spending, like the dispatching, Stephens said.

In preparation for his proposal, Stephens took the numbers of each departments' payroll budget and did some forecasting on what a combined dispatching force might cost - and save - the county.

Stephens estimates the current system of dual dispatching departments costs a combined $553,591.

He predicts merging the two together might cost only $337,566. The result would be a savings of more than $216,000 in needed funds.

Stephens said he had mulled the idea over for some time, but only recently had crunched the amount of potential savings was "surprising."

"The final number might look different than my forecast, but the important part is the savings," he said. "It may not be the most popular thing or the easiest thing in terms of administration.

"But if we don't want our county to go without sheriff's service, we've got to look at redundancies," Stephens said. "This is kind of an appeal to the people. If they think it's a good idea, then they need to let the commissioners and the sheriff know. The pros and cons need to be discussed publicly."

Stephens suggested the county use a portion of the $0.05 sales tax currently assessed in the county to fund the merged dispatching center.

"Our backs are against the wall, if you will," he said.