To the citizens of Lawrence County:
There have been many questions regarding "Proposition 1", a 1/2 cent sales tax that is proposed on the April 4th, 2017 ballot. Hopefully I can answer some of those questions in this message.
This Proposition was put on the ballot as a result of two major issues facing Lawrence County government. The first is a dramatic drop in tax revenues for the county over the last year (2016) and the second is the increased cost of operating the Lawrence County Jail. Specifically the housing of inmates.
As a result of these two major issues, the Sheriff's Office has taken a drastic cut in its 2017 budget. This cut DOES affect public safety. The cuts include laying off two commissioned deputies and two civilian staff.
While I can't talk on the specifics of the issues of the decrease in taxes, I can talk about the specifics of the jail issues. Currently, the jail we have is set to house 52 inmates. Throughout most of 2016 we were running a total of 90+ inmates. Common sense tells you that you cannot put 90+ people in a building designed to hold 52. As a result of that overcrowding, we were forced to house those inmates at many other locations throughout the state. This resulted in a direct cost of nearly $250,000.00 to taxpayers to pay other counties to house Lawrence County inmates. This was a cost that was not budgeted. Deputies also accumulated over 1,059 hours of overtime in 2016 transporting those inmates to and from court from the various locations, also an item that was not budgeted. And finally, the fuel and vehicle expense to make those trips.
Altogether, the money county taxpayers were sending to other counties to house our inmates’ totals, nearly $300,000.00. It was a similar cost in 2015 as well. These again were not budgeted and forced the county to use reserve funds to pay the cost. Unfortunately for 2017, the county cannot afford to do this again as it would deplete the county savings.
Because of the growing cost, the county had to make tough decisions which included the layoff of several staff members in the Sheriff's Office. These layoffs directly affect public safety. On the patrol side, which is what is typically the most visible, one deputy will be gone. This means that deputies will be working shifts by themselves. This not only puts the deputy at risk but also the public.
One of the biggest complaints about law enforcement is that it takes too long for someone to arrive when a request for service is made. Unfortunately the loss of one deputy may increase this wait time exponentially. The second biggest complaint is that it takes too long to solve a crime. This will also be affected by the reduction of deputies.
Deputies not only respond to calls in the county but we are often asked to assist other agencies within our county. We respond to back-up Police Departments when needed. Many of the smaller municipal agencies do not have 24/7 police coverage. When those officers aren't on, the county responds to assist and cover for those agencies.
The side that is not more commonly seen is that of our aging jail. One that we have outgrown. As mentioned above, there were many occasions that we were housing 90+ inmates. Inmates who are accused of crimes as simple as petty theft to those who are accused of murder are being kept in our county jail. At current staffing levels there is one, yes I said one, jailer in charge of anywhere between 60 and 90 inmates. This is a tragedy waiting to happen. It is unsafe for a single jailer by national standards to watch more than 10 inmates. Our jail staff watches more than 60 per jailer, nearly ten times what is considered dangerous by national standards.
What people may not realize is that these are not just county arrested prisoners. The county jail holds inmates that have been arrested by your local police departments, the Highway Patrol and other agencies with law enforcement authority in Lawrence County.
As a result of what I have explained above, the County Commission has realized that there is a serious public safety issue and have put Proposition 1 on the ballot for citizens to vote on. This proposition again is a 1/2 cent sales tax. This means that on a $5.00 purchase, it will cost the citizen an extra $.025, on a $50.00 purchase $.25, on a $100.00 purchase $.50 and on a $1,000.00 purchase $5.00. While no one likes taxes, this is a small price to pay to keep you and your family safe.
If passed, this tax is estimated to bring in approximately 1.5 million dollars annually to support the Lawrence County Sheriff's Office and the Lawrence County Prosecutors Office. If passed, the first order of business will be to add the positions that were lost as a result of being cut from the current budget. This will bring us back to the staffing levels that we had in 2016.
The second priority will be to address the jail issue by expanding the current jail facility to handle the inmates that we currently have in other counties. This in turn would save the county taxpayer from spending an estimated $300,000.00 per year to other counties to do our work and handle our responsibilities.
Once those issues are addressed, then hopefully we can expand into the future by adding deputies and taking care of other issues that have not been addressed that affect our operational needs.
To sum it all up, the county is in a dire financial situation, this situation is unfortunately affecting public safety by laying off deputies. These layoffs affect the public’s safety and the deputy’s safety. A solution has been presented to the voters to alleviate this situation.
If anyone has questions, or if you have a civic group, church group or other organization, that would like us to come explain in more detail this proposition and why it is needed, please do not hesitate to contact my office at 417-466-2131 and we will come to you to answer your questions.
Lastly and most importantly, vote April 4.
Brad A. DeLay