Sheriff continues quest to get more funding for office

Published 10:10 am Friday, November 9, 2012

Calls the situation desperate


Any more layoffs at the sheriff’s office could mean a county without a jail. And if that were to happen, the closure could be permanent since the facility does not meet current state standards. It continually fails state inspections and operates because it has been grandfathered in.

“I think that is as close to a reality as we have ever been,” Sheriff Jeff Lawless said. “I will do everything I can do to keep that from happening. I can’t continue to do under these same circumstances. I can’t run with any less employees.”

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Thursday Lawless again made his case to the Lawrence County Commissioners for additional appropriations in his 2012 budget and more money in his 2013 budgets. This was the third time since August that the sheriff has gone to the commission asking for more funds.

“I am in a desperate situation as I am in dire need of additional funds to pay for such things as gasoline for the deputies to be able to respond to calls from the public, and funds to pay for food to feed the prisoners as well as medicine for the prisoners,” Lawless wrote in a letter to the commission that he presented at its meeting.

Recently the state conducted its regular inspection of the jail and the inspector told Lawless that he was concerned about the lack of manpower now at the facility and lack of training for the staff.

“If the funding is not there, I may be forced to do things that are unpopular and hard to do,” Lawless said.

Two months ago a corrections officer and dispatcher at the sheriff’s office resigned and those positions have not been replaced. Two weeks ago, two part-time employees were laid off. Eight years ago there were 51 employees in the office. Today there are 42 full-time employees and one part-time.

In 2012, the sheriff’s office started with a total budget of $3,302,254 with $305,000 of that allotted for running the jail. On average the monthly food bill for inmates is approximately $14,000. Medications for prisoners averages $1,300 a month.

This summer jail inmate Ashley Seagraves, who is facing murder charges, gave birth to a son while in custody. The bill for that pregnancy was approximately $26,000 and the responsibility of the sheriff’s office. With inmates who have private insurance, the sheriff’s office can bill those policies. But government programs stop assistance to individuals once they are arrested.

Besides the Seagraves bill, the sheriff’s office owes $1,929 to a local pharmacy, $14,672 to two local food distributors and $1,644 to dry cleaners for uniforms.

Lawless must also find money to cover terms in the latest FOP contract. The contract provides for a 25-cents-on-the-hour raise and is backdated to Jan. 1, 2012.

“That is not money I have budgeted for,” he said. “An issue of a class action grievance settlement may have to be paid out on the way retirement is set aside.”

After the meeting Commissioner Bill Pratt said he wanted to see the revenue level for 2013 before making a decision about the sheriff’s budget for that year. The county is expecting $900,000 in casino funds for next year, but already the October allotment expected to be $128,000 was cut to $109,000.

“We can’t make any projection until we get an estimation on what the revenue will be,” he said. “We have this casino revenue but there is no real guarantee on it. We also have the sales tax but we think it will be better.”

As far as an appropriation this year for the sheriff’s office, Pratt wants to wait until the sales tax for this month comes in on Nov. 20.

“If it comes in favorably, then we will ask the budget commission to do an additional certification,” Pratt said. “If that doesn’t happen, it will be a very stressful situation through the end of the year.”

Commission President Les Boggs also wants to take a wait-and-see approach to the funding request.

“We have to take an evaluation of the financial condition based on what the next few weeks hold,” he said. “We will be able to determine what we can do to help the sheriff.”

Budget hearings for 2013 are expected to start in the next two week, Boggs said.