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High cost of crime will require tough decisions

Public safety must be the first priority of government. Without law and order, everything else is irrelevant. The success of our economy, our schools, and our community is dependent on the fact that law and order is maintained.

In almost every community in America, the challenge of keeping law and order continues to put a tremendous strain on local governments. With mandated sentencing, prisoner rights, prisoner medical costs, drug abuse, etc. the cost to maintain law and order continues to skyrocket.

This is certainly the case in Lawrence County. The cost of crime has nearly doubled for the county over the past decade.

In order to cope with this increase, over the years the county has cut expenses in other areas and utilized funds from the 1/2 percent sales tax revenue in order to maintain a reasonable sense of law and order in our county.

When the 1/2 percent sales tax was enacted in Lawrence County over a decade ago to fund EMS and 911, two mils of property tax (roughly $70/year on a $100,000 home) that were dedicated to ambulance service were removed from your property taxes.

However, due to the increase in the cost of crime, it has been necessary over the last few years to utilize excess portions of the 1/2 percent sales tax revenue to maintain law and order.

Regrettably, we are at a crossroads in Lawrence County, and all voters in the county face a financial reality: As it stands, there will not be enough money for the county to pay for a publicly subsidized ambulance service and keep minimal law and order in Lawrence County by next year.

That is why there is talk of the need for a levy. If a levy is placed on the ballot for either law enforcement or ambulance service and it fails, the ramifications will still be the same.

There will be no choice but to eliminate the public ambulance service in Lawrence County.

Other counties, like Scioto, do not have countywide public ambulance service. Still other counties, like Jackson and Athens, vote for property tax levies to support their public ambulance service. All three of these counties use their 1/2 percent sales tax to maintain law and order.

Yes, Lawrence County does have excellent public ambulance service, but unfortunately, the county simply does not have the funds to continue to pay for this service under the current revenue structure.

However, if a levy is passed for the exclusive purpose of subsidizing ambulance service, the funds generated will ensure that ambulance service will continue in Lawrence County regardless of the financial problems the county general fund may face due to the continually increasing cost of crime.

There are nearly six months before any levy would be voted upon. This amount of time will provide ample opportunity for public debate on this issue.

This issue is important and complicated, but this amount of time will help us all to evaluate the options and make a sound decision.

Jason C. Stephens is in his third term as Lawrence County Commissioner.