Sheriff says office needs more money

Published 10:09 am Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Throw me a lifeline.

Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless asked the Lawrence County Commissioners Tuesday if they could find money somewhere to ease his budget crisis.

Lawless said the first-of-the-year 15 percent budget cut wound up being more like 18 percent for his office. Making matters worse, Lawless said, are several problems that are not of his own making. An arbitrator officially ruled in favor of his employees in two grievances that were filed before he took office but officially settled last month.

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Now the $150,000 that will be divided amongst some members of his staff will come out of the money he has been given to run an already lean department.

“I don’t see where I can come up with it in my budget and continue to provide services for the county,” Lawless said.

Crime is up and right now the jail population is hovering in the 80s, with anywhere from 10-13 inmates being kept out of the county.

“A lot of things are beyond my control,” Lawless said. “I am asking for any assistance you have to help me make it through the end of the year.”

Without some kind of additional money, Lawless is looking at layoffs. He did not say how many employees he would have to lay off to balance the budget. Right now he has a chief deputy, 19 full-time road patrol deputies (this includes one process server and one school resource officer), three detectives, four full-time dispatchers and one part-time dispatcher, four clerks (one of whom is considered full-time but actually works two days a week as a dispatcher), two cooks, 11 full-time corrections officers, two part-time corrections officers and one part-time nurse.

Commissioners seemed sympathetic but did not indicate they had any money to help him.

“This is something that is a challenge we face from a budget standpoint,” Stephens said.

Commissioner Les Boggs said he has heard numerous comments from area residents who are pleased with Lawless’ performance as sheriff and pleased as well with that of Chief Deputy Jeff Hitchcock.

“I know you’re doing a great job,” Les Boggs said.

Lawless praised his staff for their dedication, saying they perform great service to the county under less than ideal circumstances.