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Commission agrees to make agency own entity; patrol deputies still face layoffs

Jan. 11, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

IRONTON -- The Lawrence County Board of Commissioners agreed Thursday to make 911 a stand-alone agency and provide Sheriff Jeff Lawless an extra $225,000 to pay for dispatchers for sheriff's deputies and police agencies while 911 will dispatch calls for fire departments and Emergency Medical Services ambulances.

The change will allow most or all of the 15 dispatchers given layoff notices on Wednesday to continue working, said Commissioner Les Boggs.

Budget cuts, however, have forced Lawless to send layoff notices to five of his 15 road patrol deputies along with two other part-time employees.

"You might as well hang out a sign in Lawrence County saying 'criminals welcome,'" Lawless said in making an unsuccessful bid for additional funds to keep the five road patrol deputies working. "We had 215 aggravated burglaries last year and 805 thefts, and now we're telling the public the help they need is not available. There will be times these deputies won't have backup."

The department's salary account was cut 23.5 percent, a move that forced the layoffs, Lawless said.

"I took an oath, and I have an obligation to protect the citizens of Lawrence County," Lawless said. "I'm here to say we need your help. We need these road patrol deputies. We need deputies in these cars responding to the calls."

Boggs recommended re-establishing 911 as a stand-alone agency, rehiring Lonnie Best as administrator, and giving Lawless $225,000 to pay for dispatchers for sheriff's deputies and police agencies in the county.

Each county office was cut the same, 23.5 percent, Pratt said. "We think of public safety as a top priority. It's very painful" to make cuts to the sheriff's office, he said.

"I ran on public safety," Commissioner Freddie Hayes said. "We need to get with the budget commission. The first money we get needs to go to the sheriff's department."

Lawless said the sheriff's office has been understaffed and that while 911 was under the department, it wasn't funded properly. "I have not been given a fair shake on 911," he said.

"The budget commission tells us what we can spend," said Commissioner Bill Pratt. The county was told to expect $900,000 this year in casino revenues from the state. However when the first of four quarterly payments came in from Columbus, it was for $144,696.81, about $80,000 short of what was expected, he said.

Lawless said he would return to the board meeting next week to seek additional money. County Treasurer Steve Burcham said there could be an additional $100,000 that could provided to the sheriff.

"I'm not for spending one dime anywhere else until we fully fund the sheriff's department," Hayes said.

"We'll continue to give when we can," Boggs said.

As it stands, five road patrol deputies, one part-time dispatcher and one part-time corrections officer will be laid off in about 30 days.

In other action the board:

Heard a report from Burcham that his office has collected $1,190,046 in a tax lien sale earlier this month. About 75 percent of the money will go to local schools while 9 percent will go to the county. He still has 569 parcels with tax liens on them available for sale, he said.

Was notified by County Engineer Doug Cade that his tax map department would close Fridays and from noon to 12-30 p.m. Monday through Friday as a result of budget cuts. The closure could slow the transfer of some property sales.

Approved $45,000 to the Lawrence Economic Development Commission for 2013.