County finances - or lack thereof - led the discussion at the Dec. 2 Elected Officials meeting.
Commissioner Tom Whiston opened the meeting by listing the end-of-year financial requests from the various departments.
“The prosecutor’s office is requesting $22,698; municipal court $25,181.64,” Whiston began. “We have just over $300,000 in child placement costs, some as far back as April 2012; $25,000 in Juvenile costs due, commitments for cameras in cruisers for $80,000, other equipment for the courthouse and Sheriff’s office of $20,000 - and that doesn’t include the control panel that a grant was submitted for current revenue.”
He cited $255,000 in public defender bills - for total bills of $722,879.64.
Whiston noted the cash on hand from workers comp and casino revenue is $175,000, leaving an outstanding balance of $547,879.64.
“So the notion that everything is ok (financially) is not true,” said Whiston.
County Auditor Mary Holtrey reported that the budget commission has met and they feel that she can certify $400,000 for the budget for the first half of 2014.
Clerk of Courts Vanessa Mills remarked the problem with the public defenders costs is that the county is not getting reimbursed as they should.
“Other counties get that money (re: public defenders),” she explained. “Before the public defender is offered to the client, that $25 has to be paid up front. In this county that is not being done. This has been an ongoing problem for years. We have addressed it and addressed it; we have found out that Marion - and maybe Franklin (counties) - are getting those funds up front.”
Whiston asked if indigent clients have to pay the fee.
“It doesn’t matter if they are indigent or not - they have to pay that $25 up front,” Mills said. “Our county gives them the attorney whether they pay it or not.”
Commissioner Tom Harden shared that state law says the state would reimburse the county 50 percent of the cost, but the state has never done that.
“Thirty-five percent of the cost is all we get,” he said. “The county absorbs 65 percent of the cost.”
Mills reported that the state auditor’s office is asking why the county is not getting the $25 fee.
“It really is a judge problem,” Mills said. “They should make sure they walk down those steps (to pay the fee).”
Whiston stated that he didn’t think that even if the $25 was collected that it would put a dent in the costs.
“It doesn’t matter - that is income that we should have,” Mills responded.
Commissioner Dick Miller asked what happens to the $25 and where does it go?
“It is put in the general fund,” Mills replied. “It is a problem and we are addressing it.”
Commissioner Harden asked if the municipal court collects the fee?
Mills stated that the Municipal court can hold your drivers license and, yes, they do collect it.
“So the only problem is the Common Pleas court doesn’t,” surmised Harden.
Mills then expressed concern about the tracking system.
Later in the meeting, the two Common Pleas Judges arrived and were questioned in regards to the $25 fee that is required for the public defenders that isn’t collected.
“What do you mean we don’t collect it?” asked Common Pleas Judge Howard Hall. “The $25 is the fee for indigent - it’s the affidavit that they complete. I tell them (about) the $25 when they walk in. I tell them at pretrial, I tell them at their plea, I tell them at the sentencing.”
“I tell them,” said Common Pleas Judge Robert Hickson.
Commissioner Miller asked, “Why is it that we have something that we can’t collect?”
Judge Hall said that legislative action years ago required $25 for the application fee.
“It is a great concept, but we are dealing with people that are almost always unemployed with no income,” Hall explained. “It is an effort in futility, but it has to be paid. It is tacked on as a court cost and if they pay their court costs, they have paid the $25. The state legislature says they are supposed to pay it in seven days but, if they can’t, it can be waived - which we do not - but we do add it to the court costs.”
Miller asked Mills what was the issue, then?.
“Its not on the fault of the judges, it’s that we are not getting it,” Mills replied.
“It is going to be paid as long as the court costs are paid,” said Judge Hall.
Other items discussed are that the elevators in the courthouse will be closed for renovations through December 31st. Once completed, it will make the Recorders office and Probation department handicap accessible.
Bart Dennison was introduced to the elected officials. Dennison is a new employee working with Randy Bush Morrow County Engineer. He resides in Crawford County but has family in Morrow County.
Whiston shared that there is a new commander at Post 59 of the Ohio Highway Patrol. They discussed working together with the Sheriff to help curtail the drug traffic coming through Morrow County.
Warren Davis, current president of the Township trustees, announced that December 12 will be the trustees meeting and newly elected trustees will be sworn in. Davis reported that this will most likely be his last official action as a township trustee.
Commissioner Harden thanked him for his service as a trustee in North Bloomfield Township and wished him the best of luck in the future.
Whiston shared that he attended a meeting in Mansfield with Ohio Department of Transportation Director Ray and the Lt. Governor for the announcement of the bridges that Morrow County has been allocated 2.3 million for six bridges in Morrow County (for round one). There are 23 total targeted for Morrow County. The funding is coming from the turnpike money. The bridges are not the closed bridges, as that was not the criteria of the state, but will be bridges that were in danger of being closed soon.
Prosecutor Charles Howland updated the elected officials on the HPM situation. The final report has been issued by the EPA. They have completed the clean up.
“The next thing is getting the bid documents all ready to go,” Howland said. “We have to publish and put it up for sale. And we will see what happens.”
The next County Elected Officials Meeting is January 6, 2013 at noon.