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  • Writer's pictureBill Raines

Editorial: Lawrence County First Responders Risk Lives During COVID Receive No Compensation

LAWRENCE COUNTY - (January 17, 2022) - Lawrence County received $1.4 Million in CARES Act money and will receive $8.8 Million in American Rescue Plan.

Lawrence County Volunteer Fire Departments were denied both CARES Act and American Rescue Funds even though they are on the front lines of the COVID pandemic

The CARES Act money went to several non-profits, and both school corporations who received their own CARES ACT and ARP funds.

In December 2020, Lawrence County Council approved giving a stipend to some Lawrence County employees from COVID relief funds. Lawrence County employees who were hired before December 1, 2020, received over $1,000 and permanent part-time employees will receive $500.

There is still $386,094 in CARES Act funds and Lawrence County Commissioners still are keeping the public from knowing where the $8.8 Million in American Rescue Plan funds will be spent.

However, Lawrence County volunteer fire departments, who has responded to numerous COVID related emergencies, and with no ambulance's available in Lawrence County, throughout the COVID pandemic, did not receive any CARES Act funding.

Only one local volunteer fire department received $139 out of the $1.4 Million given to county officials. The Lawrence County Commissioners and Lawrence County Council are responsible for the distribution of the CARES Act and ARP funding.

According to Lawrence County Emergency Management director who oversaw the CARES Act distribution of funds stated the funds went for the following purposes. " The funds went for personal protective equipment, telecommunications equipment for those who worked from home, computer systems security, transportation van for Lawrence County Sheriff's Department, police car and stipends for county employees," said Luchauer during a January 2021 County Council meeting.

Lawrence County Commissioners in an October meeting told the Lawrence County Volunteer Firefighters that the American Rescue Funds will not be used for the volunteer firefighters.

During that meeting Marshall Township Fire Chief Jason Lewis requested, for part of the $4.4 Million in funds the commissioners were going to receive.

Lawrence County Commissioners have hired Baker Tilley Municipal advisors on how to spend the funds. Three local volunteer fire departments closed due to rising costs of operating fire departments and the needs which require a large in infusion of cash in requesting help from the commissioners.

The burden on Lawrence County Volunteer Fire Departments and their emergency responders has increased during the COVID 19 due to the lack of available ambulance service in the county. These responders have been exposed to COVID and had to miss work from their regular employment due to being exposed and becoming sick.

During the commissioners meeting in October Lawrence County Commissioner Dustin Gabhart told Lewis, " Our hands are tied, and they cannot use the funds to help the fire departments," according to the Baker Tilley advisors.

Lawrence County Commissioner Rodney Fish said the funds can only be spent in a very limited and narrow way," said Rodney Fish.

However, the Commissioners did not address the other funds that the commissioners and Lawrence County gives to other non-profits which include IU Health Trauma informed care and other non-profits who come to both government agencies to help with their funding issues.

Township government is primary responsible for the funding of volunteer fire departments, but Lawrence County does not provide any funding for an ambulance service, or emergency medical care in the county.

Lawrence County has used both ambulance services (IU Lifeline and Seals) in providing free pre-hospital emergency medical care and none of the area volunteer fire departments are funded for emergency medical care. There are no ambulance contracts in Lawrence County. Every county that surrounds Lawrence County have an ambulance contract for emergency medical care.

In addition, Lawrence County Sheriff Mike Branham was denied funding for three police cars in 2021 and to overcome Lawrence County Council request for his police vehicles used the CARES Act Funds to purchase those vehicles.

There is no explanation on the part of the Lawrence County Council or Commissioners of why the local volunteer fire departments were denied their funds when they are directly on the front lines of the COVID pandemic and why money could be used to fund county employees who worked from home.

In December 2020, Lawrence County Council approved giving a stipend to some Lawrence County employees from COVID relief funds. Lawrence County employees who were hired before December 1, 2020, received over $1,000 and permanent part-time employees will receive $500.

Lawrence County Zephyr has reached out to Eric Koch's office, as well as both Senator Braun's office and Senator Trey Hollingsworth office. Only Senator Braun office responded with a phone call to ask questions and noted they were looking into the issue.

The rural communities rely on the dedicated services of all the volunteer fire services who run volumes have grown to care for those that have been sick, ill and injured. We ask that the elected officials respond to this urgent need of our responders in our community.

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