Debate over crime lab as "luxury item"

HAMILTON COUNTY, Ohio (Angenette Levy) -- The chairman of the Hamilton Co. Democratic Party fired back at County Commissioner Greg Hartmann Tuesday over his comments that a new crime lab would be a "luxury item" for the county. "He responded to a question last week and suggested the crime lab was a luxury. That's ridiculous," said Tim Burke. "The Hamilton County Crime Lab in conjunction with the county morgue has been a critical part of the justice system here in Hamilton County." Burke echoed sentiments that the 41-year-old crime lab is out-of-date, overcrowded and possibly unsafe for the employees who work there. The old Mercy Hospital in Mt. Airy has been offered to the county as a site for a new coroner's office and morgue. Burke believes the crime lab has turned into a political football."They don't want Dr. Sammarco to succeed. That's my concern. Two of the county commissioners are Republican. The coroner is a democrat," Burke said. "Not true at all. Like I said, a crime lab is critically important," Hartmann said. Hartmann said the Mt. Airy option is too expensive. He said the county should look at all options including building a new crime lab and morgue at a new site or the possibility of the Attorney General's Office building and operating a regional crime lab. Hartmann called a new crime lab a "big ticket item". "I'd rather keep the crime lab here. Can we afford it? So if we can figure out a way to keep the crime lab in Hamilton County I would love to do that," Hartmann said. Coroner Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco and police chiefs in the area oppose a regional crime lab run by the AG's Office. There are concerns that a regional lab would not get testing done as quickly for local law enforcement as a county-run lab. "They've got to find a way to resolve this problem. They're jeopardizing the justice system," Burke said. Hartmann said the big concern about building a new crime lab is how the county would pay for it. He said that is why he deemed it a "luxury item." Hartmann said a new crime lab could cost $40 million and he will not support a sales tax hike to fund it. "I'm optimistic that we're going to get to a solution that gets us a new crime lab," Hartmann said. Hamilton Co. has not taken ownership of the Mt. Airy property but it is paying to maintain. It is 70 acres and includes several buildings. You can read the entire letter here.

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