‘Citizens deserve better’

Published 10:28 am Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Sheriff questions low allocation in budget

Over the objections of county auditor Jason Stephens, the county commissioners put a half a million dollars in the 2015 budget potentially to help fund moving the county jail to Franklin Furnace — a move that has been estimated to cost at least $1.3 million.

As far as the day-to-day operation of the sheriff’s office, however, the two budgets that fund the current jail, office staff and road deputies were only increased by $5,780. That has Sheriff Jeff Lawless concerned.

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“This is not enough,” Lawless said. “I will have to be asking for more in order to keep the citizens of Lawrence County safe. To only increase my budget by $5,000 is sad for the sheriff’s office.”

The sheriff’s appropriations come from two sections of the general fund — the administrative part and the 1 percent sales tax.

In the administrative section, the sheriff was allocated $116,770 less for next year than he was originally in 2014 for a total of $1,864,030. Health insurance for 2015 comes in at $366,000 compared with the allocation in the original 2014 cost of $485,000. Salaries allocated for road deputies, which are funded by the sales tax, for 2015 were cut by $35,000 down to $865,000. To date, the sheriff’s office has spent $861,000 on road deputies with a contractually mandated 3 percent raise to take effect next year. That would add approximately $26,000 to those salaries.

“The citizens of Lawrence County deserve better than what they are getting,” Lawless said. “Crime is increasing dramatically over the years. We are at the lowest staffing level in a couple of decades. We need to put more deputies on the road.

“When it comes to the new jail, when I look at these figures there is no way I could open a jail with the figures they have proposed today.”

Last week the commissioners adopted the 2015 budget after receiving the go-ahead from two members of the budget commission to take a total of $500,000 from next year’s carryover as an unappropriated balance. Stephens refused to certify that additional amount, however, saying the money was needed in the carryover to pay first of the year bills and provide a carryover for 2016.

Without a certification of anticipated revenue, the commissioners cannot allocate those funds. Over Stephens’ objections county prosecutor Brigham Anderson and county treasurer Stephen Burcham voted to shift the carryover. The commissioners placed that money as an unappropriated balance.

According to chief deputy auditor Chris Kline , however, if the commissioners were to allocate that money now, Stephens would not allow it to be spent.

The budget commission has asked for an opinion from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine as to whether Stephens has sole authority to certify anticipated revenue.

Although officials talked about using the $500,000 as part of the jail move, that money could also augment Lawless’ current operational budget, according to commissioner Bill Pratt.

“If the money can be determined it can be spent, the $500,000 will help Jeff’s budget,” Pratt said. “It would be Jeff’s money to use as he sees fit. It is up to his discretion. It is a conservative budget. We had to put money in other places like the EMS and 911 to get by. There are things we would like to but can’t do.”