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Voters could face decision on tax levy

How much money would a 2.5-mil tax levy bring to the cash strapped county coffers?

The Lawrence County Commission Thursday agreed to ask the Lawrence County Auditor’s Office to answer that question.

Commission President Jason Stephens introduced the matter and estimated such a levy would bring in $1.75 million. This is one step toward putting such a levy in front of the voters and Stephens said it could be on the ballot as early as the May primary, if the commission decides to move forward.

The commission also approved a new board that will supervise the consolidation of the county’s emergency dispatch systems.

Stephens said, while recent moves have made the county’s short-term future more secure, a levy would address long-term needs that can’t be met on its existing budget.

One area of need is ambulance service. The levy would allow for the purchase of new ambulances — something the county has not had since 2006 — and possibly even new ambulance stations.

It would also free up roughly $1 million in general fund monies that is now spent on ambulance service, money that could be used, Stephens pointed out, for keeping road patrol deputies behind the wheel.

Finding money to pay for the escalating crime rate has been a regular problem for the sheriff and commissioners alike.

The county had an EMS levy but it was replaced in 1998 with the half-cent sales tax that remains in effect today.

Commissioner Doug Malone said, while he supported the motion to ask the auditor’s office to determine how much the levy would bring in, he has not asked anyone to put a levy on the ballot nor did he ask anyone to circulate any petitions in regard to it.

Commissioner Les Boggs said, while he did agree to Stephens’ motion, he still wants to study the matter because he had not seen information about it until Thursday.

The commission Thursday also approved a nine-member 911 dispatching board.

“This would be to handle the operations of 911 with the idea of consolidation,” Malone explained.

Right now, the sheriff’s office has its own dispatchers who handle calls for law enforcement assistance. The 911 dispatch center handles call for fire and ambulance assistance.

The City of Ironton also has its own dispatch center. The county commission hopes to save money by combining the dispatching into one entity.

The nine members are Sheriff Jeff Lawless, Ironton Police Chief Jim Carey, Fayette Township Trustee Terry Wise, George Barnett, president of the Rome Township Volunteer Fire Department, Tom Runyon, Ironton fire chief and a member of the Lawrence County Fire Chiefs Association, Dave Wilson, representing consumers, Terry Doolin, a representative of Southeast Ohio Emergency Medical Services, Chesapeake Mayor Dick Gilpin and Mike Caldwell, publisher of The Tribune.