So where does county#039;s money go?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 29, 2005


That is the amount of money that was labored over, lobbied for and ultimately doled out this year from the Lawrence County General Fund to various offices for operation of the numerous facets of county government.

Property transfers, auto titles, divorces and even time behind bars, it is all funded largely by this money that passes through the Lawrence County Commission and to other offices to provide for the common good.

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This year, Lawrence County Commissioners have repeatedly warned both citizens and courthouse officeholders that money is scarce and the frugality is necessary to make ends meet. Several offices are expected to run short of money in their salary line items before the end of the year.

Is Lawrence County poor? How poor? Where does its money come from and where does it go? The answers may surprise you.

Where the money comes from

County officials may wish for pennies from heaven, but the reality is much more mundane. The money to run your county government comes from you in a number of ways.

The sales taxes you pay make the loudest jingle in the county's coffers. Sales taxes are roughly 45 percent of the general fund budget, or approximately $4.2 million each year. Although county officials may wish for more money from sales taxes, that $4.2 million figure has changed little over the course of the last several years, Chief Deputy Auditor Chris Kline said.

"It's been pretty much stagnant," Kline said. "It fluctuates a little, but not very much, and part of that is because there are not a lot of places in Lawrence County to spend your money."

Property taxes come in a distant second, comprising roughly 15-18 percent of the budget or $2 million annually.

Money the state passes along in the form of Local Government Funds is the third-largest slice of the general fund pie, comprising roughly 12-14 percent of the budget. Last year Lawrence County's general fund collected $1,308,732 from the state. Local government officials agree: They could not operate their offices without this money. Each year as state lawmakers tinker to balance their own budget, local officials worry that state legislators may tinker the LGF out of existence. This was particularly true this year.

"At the beginning of the year we had every signal from Columbus that the Local Government Funds were being cut by 20 percent or cut out altogether," Lawrence County Commissioner Jason Stephens said. "Now it looks like it's going to be left even. But we had to be conservative. And that has panned out better than we thought."

The rest of the money the county gets is in the form of grants to various offices and state subsidies. The one thing county officeholders agree on is that, thanks to a stagnant economy, there is simply not enough of the green stuff to go around.

So if the county has all this money, then why are commissioners so worried about not having enough? The answer is simple: costs routinely increase while money coming in to pay for these costs has not.

Stephens said the county's budget and the amount each officeholder is given has been relatively flat over the last five years, with officeholders getting the same amount or even less to work with from year to year.

The largest part of each office's budget is usually salaries, with that figure dependent on the number of employees and rate of pay. Payments to the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS), health insurance and supplies usually comprise the bulk of the rest of each officeholder's budget. Insurance costs for the county, be it health insurance, liability or worker's compensation, will cost the county $1,855,000 this year.

Where (most of) your money goes

The old adage that "crime doesn't pay" may be true, but Lawrence Countians pay for crime and pay dearly.

Roughly 40 percent of the money the county gets each year goes to either fight crime or deal with its aftermath.

If you think that's too high, do the math. This year, $1,589,221.49

was allotted to the Lawrence County Sheriff's Office to prevent crime or to apprehend criminals and follow up the roughly 10,000 calls that agency receives annually, plus an additional $200,000 for utilities and maintenance on the jail. Thefts, burglaries, shootings, domestic violence, drunken driving - your tax dollars pay for this misbehavior.

Last year the

sheriff's office spent $92,000 on food for inmates, $22,000 for medical expenses, all of which is mandated and regulated by state law.

"People often say 'why don't you feed them one meal a day?' Well, I can't do that, the state says I can't do that," Lawrence County Sheriff Tim Sexton said. "It is strictly regulated by the state. The state says what I can and cannot do. And again, the medication, I am legally obligated to provide it. … I try to cut costs where I can. I buy day-old bread, I have for years, and I save 25- 35 cents a loaf that way. I try to cut corners but again, there are state regulations."

The rising cost of gasoline for automobiles has been a thorn in Sexton's side this year: With some 500 square miles of county to cover, the sheriff said fuel costs are approximately $8,000 above the figure for the same time last year, all at a time when he has less money to spend and more people asking for help.

Once a person is arrested, the trip through the legal system can be expensive. The Lawrence County Prosecutor's Office received $672,563.20 this year, much of that to prosecute accused criminals.

"We have thousands of cases each year," Lawrence County Prosecutor J.B. Collier Jr., said. "We are busy all the time."

He estimated that the number of serious criminal cases prosecuted by his office has risen 150 percent since 1998.

And if the person is indigent, the taxpayer pays twice: Once to fund the prosecution and once to fund the defense, which the person is entitled to by law.

Note the Miranda warning suspects are read when they are arrested: "… If you can not afford an attorney one will be provided for you."

That means the attorney is provided compliments of the Lawrence County taxpayer.

"The majority, the large majority of our cases are indigent cases," Collier said. "And criminal defendants are entitled to defense counsel under the law. It's a big drain on our county."

Collier has a point: Stephens estimated that $500,000 will likely go into the county's indigent defense fund by the end of the year.

Lawrence County Municipal Court, the jury commission and Lawrence County Common Pleas Courts received a combined $866,885.14

this year, much but not all of that amount to handle criminal cases. The courts also handle civil matters.

The same can be said of the Juvenile/Probate Courts, which was allotted nearly $1 million this year. The juvenile probation department, the juvenile detention home and the Lawrence County Probate Court received a combined total of $831,473.35. While not all of that amount will be spent to deal with crime, much of it will be: The detention home alone received $449,607.50.

Even after the criminal has made his or her way through the court system and is in and out of prison, the cost to the taxpayer continues. Another $50,645.75 was allotted this year to the adult probation agency, again, a requirement under state law.

Funding for the Lawrence County Domestic Violence Task Force and its shelter amounted to $86,212.50.

Now, add the budgets for the courts, prosecutor's office, adult probation, sheriff's office, jail and indigent defense: $4,797,001.20.

"It made me mad when I first discovered this," Stephens said about the cost of crime on the county citizenry. "It's just amazing how much money is used to keep the peace, but it's a necessity."

Who gets the money

in the county?

County Commission$522,044.20

Auditor's Office$510,049.11

Treasurer's Office$153,069

Clerk of Courts $227,886.54

Coroner's Office$66,962.88

Board of Elections$272,460.75

County maintenance and operations$490,840.00

Recorder's Office$275,848.28

Emergency Management Agency$253,502.93

Courthouse security$145,076

Municipal Court security$28,955.84

Bureau of Inspection $60,000.00

Humane Officer$600.00

Agriculture $85,000.00

Health Department$40,000.00

Soldier's Relief Board $111,025.27

Veteran's Services $195,823.18

Human services $375,000.00

Engineer*$47,100 .00

Law Library$48,201.98


Common Pleas Court $371,498.00

Jury Commission $5,790.40

Adult Probation $50,645.75

Domestic Relations $86,212.50

Juvenile Probation $322,142.20

Detention Home $449,607.50

Probate Court $59,723.65

County Municipal Court $371,628.29

Ironton Municipal Court$117,968.45

Sheriff's Office $1,589,221.49

Jail Expenses $200,000.00

Miscellaneous** $865,000.00

*Most of this office's budget provided

by gasoline tax, not county general fund.

**Includes emergency service funds, debt

service, Lawrence County Soil

and water Conversation District funding.