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Fire chiefs hot about sheriff#039;s funding request

Eight county fire chiefs are lobbying county commissioners to reject a request by the sheriff to use a portion of a half-cent sales tax levy to keep the sheriff's office afloat.

Hamilton Township Fire Chief Mike Pearson led the charge with a letter to commissioners, dated June 8, 2005. The letter was also signed by fire chiefs from South Point, Coal Grove and Elizabeth, Perry, Lawrence, Upper and Rome townships.

The fire chiefs contend the half-cent sales tax was enacted to provide money for emergency services and that the sheriff's office is a public safety office, not an emergency services agency.

"How do you justify taking the funds away from emergency service to fund public safety?" the letter asked. … "We know the sheriff needs more funding but not at the expense of the fire departments, EMA and 911."

The fire chiefs contended in their letter that fire departments had expected to get money from the half-cent sales tax fund and to date have only received $1,000.

"The commission has used this money to balance the books and keep promising to put the funds in the place that we were led to believe it was for," Pearson wrote.

Sexton said he does not want to take money from local fire departments and he supports their desire to receive funding from the half-cent sales tax fund.

"The resolution (to enact the half-cent sales tax fund) adopted in April 1998 does not specifically state (that funding is for) fire departments, EMS and 911, it states emergency services," Sexton said in a written response to the fire chiefs' letter. "The Ohio Revised Code defines 'emergency services' in section 4931.40. Yes, 'emergency services' does include the sheriff."

The half-cent sales tax has amounted to anywhere from $1.9 million and $2.1 million

annually since 2000.

A number of county offices, including the sheriff's office, are expected to run out of operating funds before the end of the year.