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Lawrence County sheriff to lay off 22 employees

Jan. 10, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

IRONTON -- Citing budget cuts, Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless sent layoff notices Wednesday to 22 employees, including five road patrol deputies. Under contract, the employees can't be laid off for 30 days.

Most of the layoffs are coming in the 911 dispatching service, and many of them are part-time employees, Lawless said.

His 911 budget was cut by nearly $200,000, and his road patrol salary account was cut by about $265,000. He had other cuts in his budget including $10,000 to his corrections budget. One corrections officer and one dispatcher are among those being laid off.

"We've been working with a skeleton crew the last few years," Lawless said. "It's almost impossible to keep up with the call volume. This will be devastating. It puts everyone's life in danger."

"I understand you can only spend what you have," said Emmerson Moore, a South Point area resident. "But I know (the sheriff's office is) understaffed. Maybe they should have cut other areas first rather than risking public safety and the security of citizens. It does not make sense to me."

Lawless had few options when his salary budget was cut about 23 percent. If he had shut down the jail, it would have cost an additional $500,000 this year to house prisoners in other county jails, he said. If the 1972-era jail were closed, it would never reopen. A new jail costing millions to build would have been required.

"I can't generate revenue," Lawless said. "My money comes from the (Lawrence County Board of) Commissioners. I talked to them Tuesday, and they offered no additional money.

"I decided we had to cut back on road patrols and have a skeleton crew doing 911 dispatching," he said. "Some minor calls may not be answered. The road patrol deputies also provide backup to village police departments. There will be fewer road patrol deputies to respond."

Commissioner Freddie Hayes Jr. said the board had less money this year from the county's budget commission. "We don't have it to give," he said. "We did the best we could. One of my main goals is public safety. If the budget commission certified more money, the sheriff's department will be the first one to get it."

County Auditor Jason Stephens, a member of the budget commission and a former commissioner, said the budget commission can only certify revenues which are anticipated to come in. "We have to be realistic with our projections. The commissioners have additional funds certified, but not appropriated. They're being fiscally responsible. It's tough. The numbers are the numbers. I credit Sheriff Lawless for being proactive."

If additional revenues from the half-percent sales tax or casino funds come in, the budget can be adjusted, he said. "All the budget commission does is say how much money is available. It's up to the commissioners to decide what the priorities are and where the money is to go."

Terri Robinson, a Lawrence County resident, blames cuts in state funds for the problem.

"I don't understand how we can have a governor who puts money in a rainy day fund and we end up laying off law enforcement officers. The money is not coming back to the local communities. People need an officer to respond when there's a problem."