Wow, so much happening! Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get out an update before today’s budget hearings.
I’ll cover today’s proceedings in a separate post; I wanted to give a quick update on the major changes during yesterday’s marathon session as soon as possible, though. The following developments happened in yesterday’s hearings:
- $70K in pauper attorney requests cut. Pauper attorneys are primarily appointed when judges deem that the Public Defender would have a conflict of interest with a particular defendant. Courts were asked to transfer into this line later in the year out of existing unspent appropriations if they need the additional pauper attorney funding
- $46,763 was cut from two lines that either were already or would likely be funded by grants
- There was some discussion about the appropriate number of probation officers. The salaries (including step increases and cost of living increases) of probation officers are set by the state, and so probation increases are (correctly) perceived by the Council as an unfunded mandate
- A placeholder for software was cut from the Juvenile Services Nonreverting Fund
- During the discussion on Project Income (the primary support for Community Corrections, paid for by user fees from program participants), it was pointed out that this fund, formerly unsustainable, is now sustainable because the County bought the Johnson Hardware Community Corrections building, and so Project Income funds no longer need to be spent on rent to CFC
- In the discussion on the Juvenile Probation budget, which is in the Juvenile COIT fund (funded by a 0.05% special income tax earmarked for juvenile services), Troy Hatfield, chief deputy probation officer, demonstrated that the Juvenile COIT will not raise enough revenue to support current juvenile services by 2015, and that the Council will need to consider increasing the rate (the statutory maximum is 0.25%). The tax would need to be reauthorized by the County Council by August, 2014 anyway.
- Youth Services
- Part of the Youth Services (Binkley Youth Shelter) budget is funded through the Juvenile COIT as well. The above comments about the unsustainability of current Juvenile COIT revenues apply as well.
- The other portion of the Youth Services budget is funded by the County Per Diems fund. This fund receives revenues from the reimbursements that Monroe County is paid when youth are placed in the shelter. Last year, several personnel from other Youth Services budgets were placed in this fund when the per diem reimbursements were higher and the cash balance, having built up for several years, was very high. Changes (cuts) in reimbursements from the state have resulted in situation in which the County Per Diems fund is unsustainable as-is.
- Public Defender
- The Public Defender requested several changes, as mandated by the state Public Defender Commission, in order to promote equity between the Public Defender’s Office and the Prosecutor’s Office. These changes included (a) bringing the salaries of the Chief Public Defender and the Chief Deputy Public Defender up to the salaries of the Prosecutor and Chief Deputy Prosecutor (previous council decisions had reduced these salaries to 90% of that of the Prosecutor and Chief Deputy Prosecutor, which was within the guidelines of the Public Defender Commission at the time), and also (b) raising the classifications of senior deputy public defenders to the same classification of equivalent deputy prosecutors. These changes were perceived as an unfunded (or underfunded) mandate by the Council; however, the program that provides funding from the state — and in return requires that the above guidelines be met — funds about a third of the public defender’s budget in Monroe County. Opting out of the program would result in a substantial cut in funding for defense of the indigent, and would be highly undesirable from a public policy perspective. The council preferred to pay these requests out of the fund that receives reimbursements from the state (the Public Defender Supplemental Fund), rather than the general fund. However, since the PD Supplemental Fund was not advertised highly enough to include these expenses, the Council simply removed them from the General Fund request, and deferred action until early 2014. In addition, as the County already has a policy with respect to reclassifications, the Council instructed the Public Defender to continue the reclassification process in order to have the deputy public defenders reclassified. This resulted in a reduction in the General Fund of about $108K
- The Prosecutor raised the perennial issue of the putative over-reliance of the County on Pretrial Diversion for funding basic operations of the Prosecutor’s Office. Last year the Council moved three legal secretary positions from Pretrial Diversion to the General Fund to alleviate pressure on the Pretrial Diversion fund (there are still two legal secretaries left). The Prosecutor requested that $21K in supplies and services be moved from the Pretrial Diversion fund to the General Fund. The Council denied this request, stating that the Prosecutor should transfer from other unspent appropriations if needed.
- The Pretrial Diversion budget is clearly not sustainable as-is; hoever the Proesecutor’s Office cannot spend out of this fund if the balance is negative. The Council chose (by default) to deal with this at a future time.
- The Assessor volunteered to give up a deputy position, which has been vacant since January of this year. This position elimination reduced the Assessor’s request by $46,763.
Hope for an update tomorrow morning on today’s hearings!