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911, sheriff will stay together

Jan. 18, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

IRONTON -- A compromise that will allow Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless to maintain control of the 911 dispatching center and potentially keep five road patrol deputies facing layoffs was reached Thursday during a Lawrence County Board of Commissioners meeting.

The board last week voted to make the dispatching center a stand-alone agency after being under the control of the sheriff for about a year. That action was withdrawn and money appropriated to finance it was overturned Thursday after Commissioner Freddie Hayes Jr. withdrew his second to the motion he made last week.

Commissioner Les Boggs, who proposed the change last week, didn't attend Thursday's board meeting.

Commission President Bill Pratt said he wasn't satisfied with last week's meeting. Both Pratt and Hayes have said public safety was their top priority. That was questioned when the board cut salary accounts for every office in this year's budget by 23.5 percent.

Lawless responded by sending out layoff notices earlier this month to 15 dispatchers for 911, five road patrol deputies and several part-time employees.

With the assistance of Lawrence County Auditor Jason Stephens and Chris and Greg Kline in the auditor's office, the commissioners came up with a proposal to put the dispatching center back under the control of the sheriff. Pratt recommended the board set aside $120,000 in the wireless 911 funds it gets from the state to the dispatching center. That will provide the 911 center with $745,000 this year.

The board also transferred $220,000 of the $282,000 it has in its half-percent sales tax fund to the sheriff's department, providing $1,125,000 for the sheriff.

The changes the commissioners made Thursday will dramatically reduce the impact of the budget cuts, Stephens said.

"We need some efficiencies in 911, but I think that will fix the problem," Pratt said.

Lawless said he has to sit down with Stephens and put together a plan to run the department with the money available. Despite the appropriations he received Thursday, Lawless has less money available for road patrol deputies and dispatchers than he did last year, Stephens said.

"I'm very hopeful" the action will allow us to keep five of his 15 road patrol deputies working, Lawless said. "Things are promising. It sounds like we'll have money for the road patrol deputies."

He said he wasn't sure 14 part-time dispatchers given layoff notices earlier this month will be able to keep their jobs.

"Our ultimate goal is for the community is to be served by 911 and road patrols," he said.

The consolidation of the 911 dispatching and sheriff's department dispatching will save some money, he said. The plan calls for three dispatchers to work each eight-hour shift. Prior to the layoff notices there could have been up to three 911 dispatchers and two sheriff's department dispatching deputies working at the same time. 911 dispatchers dispatch ambulance and fire calls while sheriff's dispatchers dispatch road patrol deputies, the Ironton Police Department and village police.

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