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Commissioner defends actions

Due to the cooperation of the Tribune, I have been granted an opportunity to respond to a previous submission by Ms. Charlotte Slagel. Apparently, it is normal conduct to not allow politicians who have already filed for office free space. So, thank you to the Tribune staff.

I haven’t had an opportunity to discuss with Ms. Slagel, her questioning of the county commission’s direction of priorities. By all accounts she is a very fine lady and is most definitely entitled to her opinion. Anyone is welcome to visit our office or call me directly and discuss issues they may have with decisions we make. Coincidentally, many do seek out information right from the horse’s mouth. I, personally, can’t always agree, but our citizens usually can respect where I am coming from.

The issue discussed is about how we have chosen to prioritize county expenditures and, in particular, why hasn’t more of that money been spent on solving the jail conundrum.

On the jail issue, here is how I stand.

For a year, I studied the offer the state had provided us. This is the move to Franklin Furnace into the now empty juvenile detention facility. A committee was formed and I was the chairman. After much thought, discussion, deliberation, arguing, and worry, the county agreed to sign a lease pending the state make updates to the facility and the STAR justice center move into the remaining portion.

As this progressed, it became clearer with each meeting that our county, without an additional source of revenue, would not be able to make the transition. Several months ago, I withdrew my support for the move. This move, or building a new jail in the county, most certainly would require a significant additional tax levy. I will not support that. You might now ask, “What is plan B?”

My solution is to do exactly what has been done over the last several years. …continue to send prisoners out of county but at an accelerated rate. Currently, the Sheriff has about 25-30 prisoners in other counties. This allows us to keep the number at a lower more acceptable rate for state officials.

You might ask, “How is this more economical?” The easy answer is that it is all about overhead costs. If we choose to move to Franklin Furnace and maintain a 100-bed facility or to build a new jail with 100 beds we will be saddled with the expense of utilities, staff, debt service, etc. whether we have 100 prisoners or whether we have 70 prisoners. If we send prisoners out of county we will only pay for what we need. For me, it really is just that simple. Oh, and by the way, our property owners won’t be paying that $200-$500 extra a year for taxes.

Another question Ms. Slagel brought up is, “Where is the $250,000 from the Sherman Thompson Towers deal?”

That money was certified by the budget commission a couple of months ago. We have since appropriated that money into line items that were going to be short by the end of the year. Most went to officeholders including the commission as well as our county EMS. The bulk of it went to the sheriff’s line items. Essentially, we paid bills with it.

Now, moving on. Why have I personally prioritized the County Fair and the Domestic Violence Task Force?

As mentioned in the article, it is no secret that I support agriculture. I am a sixth generation farmer in this county. I have a great deal of respect for those that work hard and often bring home very little financially.

If we as a county only looked at the financial impact of farming, we might all turn our back on it. I will not. I have dealt with the ridicule of being a farm boy all of my life even with a degree from The Ohio State University.

Farming and 4-H, in particular, taught me integrity, honesty, perseverance, humility, and sense of purpose. I learned how to handle finances and how to save. After spending my youth in 4-H, I saved enough to buy a Chevy S-10 pickup from Higgin’s in Ironton. And then I drove it for 19 years. We have children throughout the county who do this yet today.

When fair board officials reluctantly came for help, concerned that there would be no fair next year because of decimated revenues, I did not hesitate in my support. This is an investment in the youth of our county. I am happy to do it and consider myself blessed to be in a position to make it happen.

If you’d like to tie it all together, I’ll say this. Research has shown that 4-H kids as a demographic represent one of the lowest percentages of inmate populations. In fact, if you surveyed our jail census today you would be hard pressed to find anyone there that spent their youth in 4-H.

It should also be mentioned that the $50,000 transferred to the fair board represents a mere .0033 percent of our county budget. The amount was collected from line items that would not incur another expense this year.

Last, is the issue of donating $1500 to the Domestic Violence Task Force. All I will say is this. I have known three of my grandmothers. I have a mother, a mother-in-law, a wife and three sisters-in-law. I have numerous aunts and nieces. I have three daughters of my own. I love them all.

God bless you Lawrence County.

 

Bill Pratt

Lawrence County Commissioner

Dairy Farmer