Lawrence candidates discuss jail, casino
IRONTON -- Two candidates for a two-year, unexpired term as Lawrence County commissioner in the November general election have responded to questions about an overcrowded jail, new money from state casinos and whether the county should buy the former post office building or Memorial Hall in Ironton.
Douglas E. Malone, 59, a life insurance agent from Ironton, formerly served two terms as county commissioner and served as a Perry Township trustee. A Democrat, Malone faces Freddie Hayes Jr., 39, a Rome Township businessman. Hayes was appointed commissioner after Commissioner Paul Herrell died. Hayes is a Republican.
The existing jail, built in 1972, has 52 beds. It routinely holds 70 to 90 prisoners, forcing 20 to 40 people each day to sleep on mats on the jail floor.
"I support a new jail, but not a property tax levy to build it," Malone said. "Scioto County built a new jail but didn't have the money to operate it. Two years later, the state of Ohio had to take over Scioto County government because they were in a financial emergency and had a $4 million deficit."
"The sheriff is doing a good job with our jail," Malone said. "We would need 20 more employees in a new jail. If there was a tax where everyone paid it, like a phone tax, I would support it. But I don't support a tax that only impacts property owners."
"My main goal is to get a new jail and find a way to finance it without raising taxes," Hayes said. "We could seek grants or state funding to build a jail we desperately need."
The county could use new money coming in from Ohio casinos to help pay for the jail, Hayes said.
Hayes also would like to see the casino money, which could reach $1 million per year, be set aside to reopen the Lawrence County Senior Center at Sybene. The center closed earlier this year because of cuts in funds to the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization.
Malone said he supports setting the biggest part of the casino money aside for the sheriff's department. "I would like to see them open a satellite office in the eastern part of the county. I also would like to see money set aside for seniors and senior programs."
The candidates also were asked if they supported using county funds to buy and restore Memorial Hall or the former post office building owned by the Ironton Board of Education for additional county office space.
"I don't support buying Memorial Hall," Hayes said. "It would cost too much money. I support restoring the building, but not with taxpayers' money. Right now, money is too tight."
Malone said there is a need for additional storage and county office space, but he questioned whether the county could afford to buy and remodel the old Memorial Hall building.
"When I was first elected county commissioner in 2003, we talked about getting a new hospital in the county," Malone said. "We were able to get St. Mary's to Lawrence County. The medical center now is serving 41 patients per day. That's about two years ahead of schedule. It's going to be a success. We also had a contingency plan to open our own ambulance service if Southeastern Ohio Emergency Medical Services closed, and it has worked well."
"My two main goals are public safety and progress," Hayes said. "We need more jobs and business in the county. The sheriff is doing an excellent job. We just need to find a way to get him more money."