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Boggs: $250K won’t go to jail

One hurdle down. Now it’s up to the state auditor to see if the county can use the $250,000 given to it following a change in the lease agreement between LM Associates and the Ironton Metropolitan Housing Authority over an Ironton senior living complex that LM managed, then owned and sold.

If the state says OK, the county will spend part of that money to offset deficits in the sheriff’s operating budget, but not to help fund moving the jail out of the county.

“We will make up shortages we have in the budget,” Lawrence County Commission president Les Boggs said. “It will not go for the move, but for the department.”

The county received the check almost two years ago, but the county auditor Jason Stephens asked the state auditor to determine if it could be spent and in what manner. Stephens was concerned that if the county spent it now, it might have to repay the money at a later date.

The state auditor’s office said, however, it could not make that determination, rather it was the jurisdiction of the county’s prosecuting attorney.

After reviewing documents including correspondence from the housing authority, county prosecuting attorney Brigham Anderson said the check “is clearly a gift from the Ironton Metropolitan Housing Authority without stipulations, restrictions or any other ‘strings attached.’”

A letter from the housing authority states that it “agreed to donate any proceeds from ending the relationship with Sherman Thompson Towers equally between the city of Ironton and the Lawrence County Board of Commissioners,” according to Anderson’s letter.

The cashier’s check the commissioners received was written on an account of LM Associates, not the housing authority

“Given the fact that the $250,000 is an unconditional gift and further that I have been unable to find any statutory limitation on the use of the proceeds of an unconditional gift, it is my opinion that $250,000 may legally be placed in the general fund of the county for the uses allowed by law for the general fund,” the opinion states.

But since the state auditor determines if funds by the county or any other political subdivision have been spent legally, that office will have the final say on the check’s use, according to Anderson.

Using that money for the jail move would be the choice of sheriff Jeff Lawless. Boggs said, however, only between $80,000 and $100,000 of the quarter of a million would go to the sheriff. That is because the commission took $500,000 from the carryover into the 2015 and placed it in a line item of the current budget, according to Boggs.

But chief deputy auditor Chris Kline said there is no such line item and that the $500,000 doesn’t exist as $10,711,064 was certified for use by the commissioners and $10,709,000 has been spent or earmarked to be spent. That leaves only $2,108 for use by the county.

Boggs disputes that statement saying, “we know that money is there. It is a question of whether the auditor will release it.”

Before the $250,000 can be spent, it must be certified by the budget commission, which has yet to set a meeting date according to Kline, who coordinates meeting times.

“We have got to come up with money to get this jail project up and operational,” Lawless said. “I have been saying from the start this is a hugely expensive undertaking. I have been waiting for money to become available so this move can be made. I am not sure there are funds available to help us make this move.”