Public defender budget soars to over $1 million in 2022

LAWRENCE CO. – The Lawrence County Council makes moves to assess and align the 2022 budgets.

The budgets for the public defender’s office and sheriff’s department saw the largest increases.

Chief Public Defender Bruce Andis

The public defender’s office budget will increase from $747,401 to $1,017,989 in 2022. The budget increase includes $50,880 for an investigator. The contractual public defenders cost increased from $40,000 to $150,000. Over the last two years, the county has paid contractual public defenders to cover large caseloads as well as the increased demand of the children in needs cases. In June of 2021, the public defender’s office could not take cases a for two-week period because the caseloads of criminal cases exceeded the statutory amount of cases allowed by the recommendation of the Public Defender Commission.

Sheriff Mike Branham

The Lawrence County Sheriff Department budget will also increase in 2022. The budget will increase from $1,489,483 to $1,658,850. The budget includes stipends for officers and a new physical fitness program for officers. Officers passing their annual physical fitness test will be given a $500 stipend.

Sheriff Branham’s requested to hire three correctional officers was approved, and he received approval to hire a new animal control officer who will also serve documents and conduct transports. Branham is hoping this will reduce overtime for transporting inmates and answering calls for animal control after hours. Branham states 5 percent of calls answered are for animal control issues.

The cost of meals for inmates has increased. The current budget related to the inmate meal cost line item will now hit $210,000. This increase is needed because of the uptick in food costs.

During the budget hearing, several public members showed their support for Lawrence County Extension Office. Lawrence County Extension Agent Lesley Lodmell requested to keep all of the extension office educators, however, the council voted to eliminate one position.

Lawrence County Extension Agent Lesley Lodmell

Lawrence County Council members expressed that many of the educational programs such as drug education are duplicated from other programs already being administered by other organizations including the Lawerence County Economic Development Corporation and public libraries.

“In speaking with people throughout the community, many could not name those who work for the Lawrence County Extension Office and have not used any of the programs the agency provides,” said Scott Smith Lawrence County Council president.

Smith responded by saying the council believes the money could be spent in other places that would benefit the county. The council will move the savings of $62,240 to a new line item for the preservation of the Lawrence County fairgrounds.

Despite pleas from those attending, the Lawrence County council voted 6-1 to cut the position, with the stipulation that if Lesley Lodmell could get other government entities to sponsor the program they would agree to fund half of the educator’s salary.

Lawrence County council member Rick Butterfield was the only one who voted to keep the third educator.

Lodmell requested to hire a full-time office assistant instead of the 2 part-time assistants. There is a high turnover in the part-time positions due to the low pay and the number of hours worked.

Other facts about this year’s budget include:

  • Heath Insurance for county employees – $2,305,380 this is a 9.75 increase over last year.
  • Phone services – $85,000 increase of $20,000
  • Data processing – $16,785,496 this in increase from $14,775,045 in 2021 (computer system, and software)

The proposed budget was at $28.8 million before cuts to the budget. The final total of the budget will not be known until October when it is adopted.

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