Commission can’t spend gas tax funds

Published 10:38 pm Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Lawrence County Commission is not legally allowed to take motor vehicle gas tax (MVGT) funds and use them to pay for road projects the county engineer’s office has not performed, according to a legal opinion on the matter.

Last month the commission sent the Lawrence County Prosecutor’s Office a letter, asking if they could use MVGT funds on their own to pay for road and road-related projects the Lawrence County Engineer’s Office had not yet performed or put on a project list to be performed.

In a letter to the commission dated Oct 27, Assistant Lawrence County Prosecutor Brigham Anderson said spending state allotted MVGT funds is not the sole prerogative of either the engineer’s office or the commission. State law requires both county offices to work together.

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“Interpreting the Ohio Revised Code sections collectively, neither the board of county commissioners nor the engineer may make expenditures from the MVGT fund without cooperation and/or approval of the other,” Anderson wrote in his letter.

“We didn’t think we could but we wanted to ask,” Commissioner Jason Stephens said during Thursday’s commission meeting.

The commissioner’s inquiry to the prosecutor’s office came after a verbal tug-of-war began between the commission and the engineer’s office over the condition of County Road 107 in Rome Township.

The engineer’s office began chip-and-sealing a part of that roadway, a move that drew the ire of residents who said the chip-and-seal was damaging a road that was in good condition.

When the residents complained to the commission, the commissioners responded by de-appropriating Engineer David Lynd’s budget. The next week they put the money back but only after working out an agreement to resurface the road immediately.

At its Thursday meeting, the commission did also finalize the sale of the county’s emergency medical services stations to the Lawrence County Port Authority for $589,000.

The vote was 2-0, with Stephens and fellow Commissioner Doug Malone voting for the sale. Commissioner Les Boggs was out of town.

Boggs has previously supported the plan but then expressed concerns about the sale of the buildings because of some items in the contract.

The original contract called for the county to sell the stations to the L.C.P.A. but continue to pay for upkeep and insurance after the sale. Under the new contract, the county will pay for fire and hazard insurance but the port authority will pay for liability insurance.

The port authority must also pay for maintenance of the buildings.

The original lease called for the county to pay $4,750 monthly to use the ambulance stations. The final contract calls for the county to pay $5,000 monthly.

The county and the port authority announced the EMS stations sale last month.

The $589,000 the county receives from the sale will be used to balance the budget through the end of the year and pay outstanding debts.