Sheriff’s office may see layoffs

Published 12:13 am Sunday, January 6, 2013

Lawless to ask for more in 2013 budget 


What the Lawrence County Commissioners decide on Thursday may determine if layoffs are imminent at the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office.

That’s when Sheriff Jeff Lawless plans to ask the commission to reconsider his 2013 budget. If the answer is no more money this year, the result may be a county without a jail or fewer road deputies.

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“My budget was cut 23 and a half percent, which leaves me about $270,000 in road patrol and another $10,000 short in corrections and a lot of line items were cut out as far as vehicle maintenance,” Lawless said. “We couldn’t make it through 2012 (without additional appropriations). How in the world can we protect Lawrence County with any less employees. We are so understaffed over the last five or six years already. The public should be outraged, especially when it comes to the jail. We need to get the jail back up to state code and without funds, you can’t do that.”

On Dec. 20, the commissioners adopted a $13,911,305 budget out of certified revenue of $14,306,610, reducing the amount of carryover to go into 2014 to $395,000, or a cut of 40 percent of the carryover amount certified for 2012.

Last year the commissioners adopted a budget of $13,181,135, but actually spent $14.5 million. In 2012 certified revenue was $14,704,358.

The few increases in appropriations for next year over this year came in the jail fund that went from $325,000 to $400,000 and the 911 dispatching fund. That was $455,000 in 2012 but will be $625,000 next year.

But those increases do not offset other cuts in his budget, the sheriff says.

“I’m working on some numbers,” he said. “Do we shut the jail down and keep the road deputies or try to manage the jail in its condition and half the road deputies we have? There are some scenarios that have to be worked out. This is a dire situation for the sheriff’s office and whether or not the citizens of Lawrence County continue to have vital law enforcement protection.”

Repeatedly the county jail has received poor marks from the state inspectors and is classified as consistently overcrowded.

“It has been neglected far too long,” Lawless said. “We are at a point of where (the commissioners) are going to have to seriously consider putting money into this facility or shutting it down.”

Last year 911 emergency dispatching was placed under the jurisdiction of the sheriff and this year’s budget cuts could also hamper or even shut down that operation, Lawless says.

“They cut that budget by $200,000,” he said. “We may be faced with not having a 911 service on top of having a severely cut budget.”

Such a cut could mean operating the service with a single dispatcher per shift, Lawless said.

“We could probably manage it when nothing is going on,” he said. “But if Rome has a fire and Coal Grove a wreck, that’s not safe for the public. If that is how we have to manage to keep it operating, the service they will get is limited.”

If Lawless makes layoffs, they could go into effect by the end of February since unions must receive a 60-day notice.

“(The commissioners) have neglected to fund the sheriff’s office and the jail properly for the last several years and it is catching up on them,” he said.

Commissioner Bill Pratt said there is $258,000 in the half percent sales tax fund that has not been appropriated and that could go to the 911 dispatching. That would still leave dispatching $75,000 short.

“If I were them, I would keep cool for a couple of months to see how our first two months of sales tax is,” Pratt said. “In February we will get what our Christmas sales tax is and in January we will get our first quarterly casino payment. We will have an idea of how our revenues will come in. If I were Jeff, I wouldn’t do anything drastic for six weeks.”

However, if sales tax and casino revenue come in lower than expected, officeholders would not have any other alternative but to have lay offs, Pratt said.

“I would hate to close the jail,” Pratt said. “We will do what we can to help, but if he has to, he is the sheriff. I think we can fund 911 and not worry about it. I don’t want to make any big decisions until that sales tax revenue comes in.”