Commissioners ponder budget, mull options

Published 9:48 am Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Lawrence County Commissioners are likely to start the 2010 budget process next week and are mulling options to make ends meet next year.

Budget hearings are scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday at the Lawrence County Courthouse. Officeholders will be given up to an hour to discuss their office’s budget needs and the meeting is open to the public. Commissioners said Thursday they hope to have a spending plan in place before Jan. 1.

The county has been plagued in recent years by dwindling revenues, cuts in state allotments and escalating demand for government-provided services.

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Lawrence County Commissioner Jason Stephens said the county could save money by adjusting ambulance services.

The Southeast Ohio Emergency Medical Services, which provides emergency ambulance service to Lawrence and two other counties, has been asked to create two budget proposals for Lawrence County for the coming year, one that maintains the status quo and one that cuts services in half. Right now the county pays roughly $1.3 million a year for ambulance service.

“(This is) so the commission can have alternatives to choose from,” Stephens said.

Stephens said another possibility for making ends meet is asking voters to approve a 2.5 mil levy that would allow the county to keep ambulance service operating at current levels.

Such a levy would also allow for a new station to be built in the Rome area and possibly one on State Route 93 to serve the Elizabeth/Decatur area.

The levy would bring in approximately $1.8 million a year. Lawrence County voters have a history of rejecting levies but Stephens said he thinks voters might look more favorably toward this one.

“I think people understand how valuable emergency services are to the community, I really do. If we put out a comprehensive plan and it makes sense financially and people feel they are getting good value, they’re going to vote for it,” Stephens said.

Earlier this year the commission adjusted the rates SEOEMS charges as a way of helping offset the county’s costs of providing this service.

At Thursday’s meeting, Patriot Ambulance operator Dave Rotter told the commission he had heard rumors of layoffs or other changes that might affect SEOEMS and, while he would urge the commissioners not to make those cuts, if they had to do it they could depend on him to help with ambulance service in the city or the county.

Patriot operates a privately-owned emergency medical and transport service, as opposed to SEOEMS, which operates the only emergency medical service dispatched through Lawrence County 911.

Commssioner Les Boggs said later in the day Thursday he had not heard any rumors of layoffs but said he couldn’t speak for the other two commissioners.

“I appreciated his professionalism,” Boggs said of Rotter.

Stephens said he thought the rumor got started when the SEOEMS staff was asked to prepare the two budget proposals.

In another matter, Boggs said the land on which the old Dennis J. Boll Group and Shelter Home and Lawrence County Engineers Office sets should be sold to the Lawrence County Port Authority within the next 10 days.

Boggs said $100,000 of the $300,000 sale will be used to help defray moving expenses for the engineer’s office to relocate to the former state highway garage on South Sixth Street. The rest will be used to pay the county’s outstanding debts.

The Lawrence County Port Authority will then transfer the land to the yet-unnamed entity formed earlier this month to market and sell the land for commercial use.

The entity is made up of the LCPA, Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization, Ironton Port Authority and the Ironton Mayor¹s Office.