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Lawrence commission: After county aid, layoffs are still looming

Nov. 16, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

IRONTON -- The Lawrence County sheriff's office received an additional $50,000 to make it through the end of the year, but if more funds aren't appropriated after the first of the year, the potential for layoffs remains.

The Lawrence County Board of Commissioners agreed to transfer money from the half-percent sales tax to provide money for gasoline to keep deputies on road patrols as well as food for prisoners at the overcrowded jail.

The board also approved a three-year contract for about 34 sheriff's office employees. It includes a $500, lump-sum payment for 2012 when the road patrol deputies and dispatchers didn't get a raise and calls for 25-cent-per-hour raises in 2013 and 2014 and a 30-cent-per-hour raise in 2015.

No money was appropriated to cover the additional costs of increases at this time, said County Auditor Jason Stephens. "We were under the gun because there was no money in the general fund to transfer," he said.

"I believe we can make it through the end of the year without further layoffs, and we can't replace two employees who resigned," said Sheriff Jeff Lawless. "We face major cuts in 2013 if we get the same budget next year. It's going to be an ongoing struggle to get the money we need to continue to fight crime."

The budget problems forced Lawless to consider closing the 40-year-old jail, which was built to hold 52 prisoners but regularly holds 20 to 40 or more prisoners than that. "We'll see how next year's budget plays out," he said.

Mark McCown, an Ironton lawyer representing the board, has been negotiating with members of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents the 34 employees at the sheriff's office, for about a year. About nine other employees in the office are covered by the Teamsters union, and they weren't covered in the contract approved Thursday.

The raise means about a 2 percent increase per year starting Jan. 1, McCown said. "Both sides have given in this," he said.

The board also agreed to forward a request to the Ohio Department of Transportation to lower the speed limit on County Road 17 in Union Township from 55 miles to 50 miles per hour and to lower the speed limit on County Road 103 in Upper Township from 55 miles per hour to 40 miles per hour.

County Engineer Doug Cade's office did the traffic studies, but Ohio law requires the state to set the limits on county roads.

In other the action, the board:

Deferred until next week the question of how to deal with a proposed 8 percent increase in health care costs for employees. The board will hold its regular meeting next week at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday due to the Thanksgiving holiday.

Accepted the resignation of paramedic Derek Smith effective Nov. 11.

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