Photo Credit: Lawrence County Sheriff's Office
UPDATE 1/10/13 @ 6 p.m.
LAWRENCE COUNTY, Ohio (WSAZ) -- One local Sheriff's Office is facing cuts so deep, the Sheriff says it may put safety in jeopardy. Budget cuts have forced the Lawrence County, Ohio Sheriff to lay off a third of his force.
Sheriff Jeff Lawless says Lawrence County is too big for these type of cuts.
It takes nearly two hours to drive from one end to the other.
Thursday, WSAZ talked with folks in Arabia, a town in northern Lawrence County, who say they may have to take safety into their own hands.
At Myers Fastlane Convenient Store, in rural Lawrence County, Ohio, everyone's talking about the layoffs at the Sheriff's Office.
"We pay taxes the same as everyone else," Darren Mannon said. "We should have the same protection as everybody in town does. And if you get rid of half the force, we're going to be left behind out here."
Mannon's house has been broken into six times. He says it already takes more than an hour for a deputy to get there. With more cuts, he expects more folks to take safety into their own hands.
"It worries you," Mannon said. "You don't know what to do. I work out of town a lot. My wife's got a concealed carry permit, too. It's a shame that you have to resort to that."
"It's gonna have to be," Shawn Myers said. "I mean, if we've got no protection. We're going to have to do it ourselves."
At Thursday's Lawrence County Commissioner's meeting, the Sheriff said losing five deputies puts the safety of citizens in jeopardy.
"We have weakened Lawrence County as far as law enforcement and emergency services go to a point where it could be dangerous to the citizens," Sheriff Lawless said.
The commission voted to split the sheriff's office and 911 -- helping keep dispatchers jobs. But the layoffs are still slated for deputies.
The Sheriff is asking commissioners to give any additional funding that comes up during the year to the sheriff's office. He says he's frustrated he hasn't gotten that commitment yet.
Those layoffs take effect in February.
Wednesday, Sheriff Lawless hit the road handing out layoff notices to 22 employees including seven road deputies.
Lawless says the budget for the Sheriff's Office was cut by nearly $200,000, which spurred the layoffs that are set to go into effect on Feb. 22.
Thursday, Sheriff Lawless spoke to commissioners about his concerns for the county and his deputies during a regularly scheduled meeting.
"We have weakened the Sheriff's Office to the point where it is dangerous to the citizens of Lawrence county," said Sheriff Lawless. "As far as law enforcement goes, I think we've hung a sign in the door of Lawrence County saying, 'Criminals, welcome, come on in.'"
But, commissioners stressed that the Sheriff's Office was not the only county office to feel the budget squeeze.
"Each office holder was cut by the same percentage," said Commissioner Bill Pratt. "The county does not have the resources to fund everything we do."
"Other office holders are not suffering the kind of huge cuts 911 and the sheriffs office are taking," responded Sheriff Lawless. "I've worked from a skeleton crew from day one. And crime continues to rise."
Last year, the Lawrence County Sheriff's Office took over operations for the 911 office in the county.
During the meeting Thursday, Commissioner Les Boggs proposed splitting 911 back away from Sheriff's Office, which would help ease the budget issues. By separating the two entities it would hopefully allow the county to not lay off some of employees that received notice on Wednesday.
"That is what I'm proposing to do to help the Sheriff's Office and 911 and call back everyone who got layoff notices yesterday," said Commissioner Boggs.
"I have to live within the decisions that you make," Lawless said. "I have not been given a fair shake on this 911 deal. I have not been funded properly. It's not because of things I've done or not done, it's because of lack of funds."
Later in the meeting, Commissioner Pratt moved to appropriate $150,000 to the 911 Office, which would allow them to bring back the director. Another $100,000 may possibly go back to Sheriff's Office at a later date to possibly bring back a deputy.
After the long discussion, commissioners voted to officially split the 911 Office and the Sheriff's Office.
The 911 Office would have a budget of $550,000 and the Sheriff's Office would receive an additional $225,000.
"I will give you commitment that I will look for any monies that may be available. I can't manufacture money, but I will look for every possible funds that we have," Commissioner Boggs said.
No word just yet if the decision to split the offices will allow the county to bring back all of the employees that received notice.
We have a crew at the commission meeting.
Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.
Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless tells WSAZ.com that five full-time deputies and two part-time deputies were told Wednesday they will be laid off February 22.
Lawless says all seven deputies are road patrol deputies.
Sheriff Lawless also tells WSAZ.com the layoffs will impact the 911 center.
Fourteen part-time employees and the 911 Director received notice Wednesday that they will also be out of a job at the end of February.
Sheriff Lawless says the layoffs come after a budget cut by the Lawrence County Commission. He says the Sheriff's Department was allotted nearly $200,000 less than what they spent the year before.
"It's going to be drastic to the county," said Sheriff Lawless. "There is going to be times when a deputy may not be able to respond when there is a need for help."
Sheriff Lawless spent Wednesday serving the notices by hand to the impacted employees. He says he is not only concerned with the safety of the county -- but also of his deputies.
"With less officers out there it puts other deputies in danger," said Sheriff Lawless.
Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.
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