The proposed 0.08-mill levy for the lab comes as the Lorain County Adult Probation Department in is the process of shutting down the county’s Forensics Laboratory. The two labs had operated with shared staff and space in the basement of the old Lorain County Courthouse.
The Crime Lab handles analyzing evidence such as drugs and fingerprints, while the Forensics Lab is responsible, through Jan. 31, for conducting drug tests on probationers.
Lorain County Administrator Jim Cordes said without the financial support of the Probation Department, which is overseen by the county’s judges, the Crime Lab won’t have the resources to pay for staff, equipment and materials.
The proposed levy would generate $495,759 per year for the Crime Lab, according to figures prepared by county Budget Director Lisa Hobart, who said that amount still needs to be certified by county Auditor Craig Snodgrass.
The Crime Lab cost $249,340 to run last year, but only generated $171,944 in revenue, most of which came from an old levy the lab shares with the Lorain County Drug Task Force.
County Sheriff Phil Stammitti said having the Crime Lab allows law enforcement agencies in the county to prepare cases more quickly than if they had to send drug evidence to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification’s lab in Reynoldsburg to be tested. He said the BCI lab is better suited to handle DNA and other evidence in more serious crimes.
Cordes said it’s important that law enforcement have a tool that’s necessary for them to do their jobs quickly and effectively.
“The bad guys have resources,” he said. “We need resources to fight back for the safety of our community.”
Commissioners Tom Williams and Ted Kalo both said after the meeting that they hope voters will be able to separate newly revealed problems with evidence handling at the Probation Department from the needs of the Crime Lab.
“It’s two totally different issues,” Kalo said.
Although Williams, Kalo and Commissioner Lori Kokoski were unanimous in putting the five-year Crime Lab levy on the ballot, Williams voted against seeking a 0.065-mill levy for transit that would generate $402,804 per year if it passed, according to Hobart’s initial figures.
He said voters rejected a similar 0.04-mill level last year by a wide margin and he doesn’t think the larger levy his fellow commissioners are seeking this year has a better chance.
“People keep rejecting this and they are rejecting it because they don’t see the benefit,” Williams said.
But Kalo, Kokoski and Cordes all argued that the county has a definite need for public transportation, particularly in urban areas. They said the county consistently has to pass on state and federal funding because transit doesn’t have the money to put up matching funds to win those grants.
“I still believe this needs to be a community approach and sometimes everybody needs to throw something in for the good of the community,” Cordes said.
Williams, who is pushing for the county to alter its transit system in a way that would allow individual communities to seek smaller-scale levies, said although he doesn’t support the transit levy, he won’t actively oppose it, either.
“I will be a no vote on this, but I’m not going to oppose you guys trying to get it passed,” Williams said. “I think the focus needs to be on the Crime Lab.”