The Lawrence County Commission has approved the 2011 budget and as it stands drastic cuts in the Sheriff's Office budget for the second year in a row could affect public safety.
The County Commission has chosen to reduce the Sheriff's budget by nearly $100,000. Perhaps the biggest part of this cut will reduce the number of officers that will be on patrol, working the jail, and available for calls. With the current budget there will be approximately 350 different shifts this year that officers will not be working. This means that public safety could be jeopardized because officer response time will be increased significantly with the reduction of available officers. Officer safety has always been a concern with the lack of staff, and now with the reduction of officers available to respond to calls, the risk to their safety is increased as well.
While Lawrence County is not unlike other counties who are experiencing budget shortfalls, it seems to be the common theme that County Commissions target Sheriff's Offices with the largest budget cuts. In most Counties the Sheriff's Offices have the largest expenditures, but, they generally bring in the most revenues. Just because Sheriff's Offices have the largest budgets, it does not mean we have the most to cut.
This year nearly $100,000 was removed from what was spent last year. This added to nearly $100,000 that was cut from the 2010 budget will continue to affect services offered by the Sheriff's Office. These cuts not only affect certified personnel but civilian as well. This is despite the fact that the Sheriff came in considerably under budget in the 2010 year. So much so that another jail staff was able to be hired near the end of the year.
One of the services that may be lost or severely reduced is the Victim's Advocate position. This position has in most parts been funded by grants with the county supplying an office, vehicle, fuel, etc. The Lawrence County Sheriff's Office Victims Advocate serves not only the Sheriff's Office but all victims in Lawrence County. It is the only such position in the County.
The Sheriff's Office request for the current budget was reduced by $270,000. In this request the majority of it was designated for two additional jail staff, one additional road staff, and one additional detective staff as well as other equipment.
Perhaps the most disturbing part of the new budget is the fact that nearly every other office received an increase in their budget while ours received the nearly $100,000 cut. Sheriff's office personel will receive on average a 5% reduction in salaries. No other county personnel received salary cuts. The largest reduction in pay will come from the loss of holiday pay for officers who work the holidays. By not paying this portion of the salary, the Sheriff believes that the County Commission is violating their own county policy.
The Sheriff has also asked for the past two years to remove the 911 dispatch center from its current location which happens to be in the center of the Lawrence County Jail. This presents many issues regarding public safety. For example, a civilian staff currently operates the 911 call center as well as dispatches for numerous other public safety agencies. In light of recent events including the problems that shut the jail down for nearly six months, civilians should not be working in that environment. This is something that has been expressed to the commission on numerous occasions.
The Sheriff believes that the current budget is setting up the office to go over budget. Many of the reductions simply cannot be accomplished because of the services currently offered.
Despite the large budget reductions, the Sheriff's Office remains dedicated to the citizens of Lawrence County and will continue to provide the best services possible. We will make every attempt to work within our budget and not remove any services if at all possible. Public Safety is our primary goal and we will continue to work for that goal.