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Debate grows on where $500,000 is or if it is anywhere

Question: Why was the sheriff’s test purchase order to see if there are any funds for moving the jail to the ORV rejected?

Answer: A) Because there is no money for the move in the budget because the revenue isn’t there and won’t be there.

B) The budget commission put money there but the auditor’s office did not follow instructions to make it available.

C) The money isn’t there now but after second tax collection, it could be there.

After Thursday’s Lawrence County Commission meeting, the right answer is D) all of the above, depending on what officeholder is answering the question.

“Is it there or is it not there,” commissioner Freddie Hayes Jr. asked. “Just lay it out. I’m tired with messing around. It is supposed to be there.”

County treasurer and budget commission member Stephen Burcham said that last year the budget commission passed by a 2-1 vote to take $500,000 from the carryover going into 2015 and make it available for the jail move.

The budget commission, made up of the county treasurer, county auditor and county prosecutor, must certify revenue before the county commission can spend it. That certification means the revenue is there now or anticipated to be coming into the county later.

“It is the responsibility of the county auditor to enter that information into the financial records,” Burcham said.

Commissioner Bill Pratt questioned if the county commission had actually determined how that money would be spent.

“I’m not sure it was ever appropriated,” Pratt said.

Commission administrator Tami Ailster said the commission didn’t appropriate it because it never received a letter from the auditor’s office or budget commission that there was a certification for the $500,000.

“We need a clear answer,” Hayes said. “I’m tired of beating around the bush. We may not be able to afford the move, but we can’t stay here. We are supposed to be in this together.”

According to chief deputy auditor, the first certification of revenue by the budget commission was sent to the county commission on September 2014. Since then there have been two additional certifications — those were sent to the commission in November of 2014 and March of 2015.

None of those contained the $500,000, according to Lawrence County Auditor Jason Stephens.

“It was never a valid vote,” Stephens said. “As the fiscal officer, I can’t determine that money is going to be there.”

Veteran commission visitor Jim Sites of Pedro asked the commission is the $500,000 there or not, right now.

Pratt said once the county finishes collecting the second half tax collection this month, the county should have the answer to that question.

“It may be there,” he said. “We may have a $2 million carryover.”

The issue of the jail and its overcrowding was first brought up at the meeting when Teri Brammer asked to speak about the jail conditions.

“We don’t seem to be getting anywhere,” she said. “I have had family members in the county jail. They are addicts. I have seen the conditions firsthand.”

She questioned why the county appears to be in favor of moving to the ORV and then changes course. She was told it is a matter of having the money available for the move.

Boggs referred her to the auditor’s office to find out about funding.

“The quality of a jail should be a deterrent to crime,” Pratt said. “We have the best deterrent to crime in the state of Ohio.”

“Regardless of what you are in there for, you are still a human being,” Brammer said.

Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless refuted a public statement made by Stephens that the situation at the jail is the same as it was 20 years ago.

“I am stuck in the middle of this thing seeing firsthand how desperate we need a jail,” he said. “Things are not the same as they were 20 years ago. We are averaging 70 prisoners including 20 females a day when 20 years we averaged only six females a day. The state is not going to allow us to continue this facility in the same manner as in the last 20 plus years. We have to remedy this situation whether we go to the ORV or build a new jail or hire more deputies to transport inmates. The state is not going allow us to operate the jail as we have.

“I have done everything I can do to show the dire need for a new facility and I can’t move anything forward.”

Stephens said his comments referred to the financial state of the jail.

“It is as much of a financial drain as it was 20 years ago,” Stephens said. “As far as the makeup of the prisoners and the condition, I am sure it is much worse than 20 years ago. I will defer to the sheriff’s assessment of the physical condition and the jail situation. My focus tends to be more on the financial side.

“Regardless of the semantics or the details of the budget commission, the county does not have the cash flow available to afford a move to the ORV. It is just that simple.”