Commissioner finds need for more criminal services funds disturbing

Friday, July 11, 2014
Tammy Helm/Tribune photo Bourbon County Commissioners review the 2015 budget request for the Bourbon County District Court during their Monday meeting. Pictured from left are: District Court Judge Mark Ward, District Court Clerk Rhonda Cole, Bourbon County Sheriff Bill Martin, Third District Commissioner Harold Coleman, Commission Chairman Allen Warren and Second District Commissioner Barbara Albright.

Budgets presented to the Bourbon County Commissioners Monday involved offices that deal with people who commit crimes.

Each budget request was for more funding than has been provided in this fiscal year.

What concerned at least one commissioner was the reasons more funding is needed for those county services -- the number of criminal and child-in-care cases have increased.

It was a meeting that left Second District Commissioner Barbara Albright shaking her head and asking "Why?"

"I was frustrated," she said after the meeting.

Commissioners heard from Sheriff Bill Martin, Jail Administrator Bobby Reed, Bourbon County District Judge Mark Ward, District Clerk Rhonda Cole, and Bourbon County Attorney Terri Johnson.

District Court budget

Ward described the district court's budget as "reasonable," and provided some statistics to back up the dollars.

The budget has an additional $11,000 for court appointed attorney fees. As of Monday, the county attorney's office has filed 276 criminal cases in the Bourbon County District Court, which is the number of criminal cases that were filed by September 2013.

"So we're a couple of months ahead," Rhonda Cole said.

"So there's more cases being filed," Martin said.

"A lot more," Ward said.

Cole said as of Monday, there already are many new child-in-care cases filed as there were by December 2013.

"Put that in perspective," Ward said. "About 76 new child-in-care cases for the whole year last year and we've already reached that today."

Cole said in those cases, there must be an attorney for the child, the mother and the father of each child in the family. In some cases, there have been multiple fathers involved. Cole said that means the court must "go outside our appointment list and pay those attorneys."

"It's kind of sad, but it's actually true," Ward said.

Also increased are the amounts for indigent and mental health cases, which also involve court-appointed attorneys, according to Cole.

"The Kansas law and Constitutional law requires that these people have a court-appointment attorney," Ward said.

The state will pay for attorneys in felony cases, he said, but anyone charged with a misdemeanor crime with a potential for time in jail can have an attorney appointed by the district court and paid for by the county, if that person can't afford to pay for an attorney.

"Which our legislature every year, especially during an election year, keeps making more and more misdemeanors mandatory jail time -- DUI, battery, driving while suspend -- they just keep increasing mandatory jail time and you have to have a court-appointed lawyer if you can't afford one," Ward said.

That is part of the issue, Ward said.

He said typically those involved in child-in-care cases do not have money to pay for an attorney, so by law, the court must appoint an attorney -- or attorneys.

"It's really easy," Albright said. "All you have to do is look at the social-economic status. It doesn't take rocket science to figure out we've got a problem."

Cole said an additional $500 has been included for a law library, which Ward said also is required by state statute.

"They mandate that stuff, then don't fund it," Ward said. "I might add, it's getting put more and more on the county to pay."

He said at one time, if a person was convicted of a felony such as forgery or driving under the influence, the Kansas Department of Corrections paid for the person's stay in prison. Due to state budget constrains over the past few years, the legislature has changed the sentencing to county jails.

"The trend is more and more each year, to change those laws to get the burden away from the state and place it on the county," Ward said.

Cole said last year, due to the county's tight budget, she did not replace any computers, but she said she can't put that off any longer.

Ward said there will be six or eight jury trials between now and the remainder of the year. The budget to cover those trials has been increased to $13,500, with the bulk of that to pay for court-appointed attorneys, Cole said.

When asked if there is a need for more attorneys to serve as court-appointed, Ward said there is a need for more younger attorneys.

"In child-in-care cases, when a mother comes in three children with three different fathers, immediately I need attorneys for the three different fathers, one for the mother and one for the child, so there's five," Ward said.

Sometimes the court has had to retain attorneys from other counties.

"The older attorneys have paid their dues, kind of thing," Ward said. "There are several who are real good about agreeing to do, but a lot of times they have a conflict with this family, so a lot of times we're scrambling to find an attorney that can do it."

"We honestly try to stay local so we don't have to pay mileage or their hourly rate," Cole said.

County Attorney budget

County Attorney Terri Johnson presented a contingency budget. This year, there was $57,000 placed in the contingency budget, but Johnson said there has been only one evaluation needed.

"That is a budget that we don't know and it really is under the control of the commissioners as a contingency so that if we have a trial that costs a lot, we have that money set aside," Johnson said. "Historically, we have had it at $150,000. Prior to last year, we had it at $75,000. Hopefully we won't have to use it, but last year, of course we had expenses that came out."

Besides evaluations, the fund would also pay for expert witnesses.

"I think you need to budget it, I'm just asking you go back to the budget you have in previous years," Johnson said.

For her budget, she increased the amount in contractual services, $26,470 because the number of child-in-care cases have increased. Each case requires a public notice, and Johnson said one public had to be published overseas.

"The number is significantly up," Johnson said.

She is requesting an increase for publication fees from $750 this year to $1,500 in 2015.

"Again, that's a guess," Johnson said. "We have already gone over the $750 for this year."

She is hoping to add an additional assistant county attorney position. She would like to have a senior assistant county attorney, and have that person at one level of pay or pay range, and an assistant county attorney come in at a lower level of pay.

"We are consistently filing more cases than any other counties in our judicial district, and also Allen County," Johnson said.

She reiterated what Ward had said about the increase in child-in-care cases. She said there also has been an increase in all types of criminal cases.

"That also impacts the jail," Johnson said. "Particularly the felonies. The felonies, in general, a general statement, someone charged with a felony has had a process (warrant) through the jail. Not always, but generally. Part of the reason we have the (jail) population is we have significantly more cases."

Martin said his office files their own warrants through the district court for misdemeanor crimes, then the county attorney picks the warrants up from there.

"Is there a task force here in our county that is addressing this issue?" Albright asked. "We need a new jail, I mean, what are we doing? I'm just saying, what in the world are we doing? I'm singing to the choir. I am asking, what are we doing? You're as busy as a bird dog. You're as busy as can be and can't keep up. What are we doing? This is our county."

"Many crimes we charge are not drug charges," Johnson said. "They'll say they are burglary or thefts. They're not drug crimes, but they're underlying -- almost all of them."

"It's easier to investigate a burglary or theft charge," Martin said. "With a drug charge, you have to investigate. You just can go off and run on a drug charge. You have to build a case."

He said the reason the burglary or theft cases are easier is because there is physical evidence.

"You're absolutely right," Albright said. "But what I'm talking about is before they end up with you. Before they end up with Terri."

Johnson said one solution might be to begin with the schools, but nobody has all the answers. Martin said there are school resource officers which closely with school administrators.

"These numbers are not unusual numbers," Johnson said. "These didn't happen in just a couple of years. This is a long-standing issue."

She said sometimes her office has to charge cases based on priorities.

"We've sat here all morning listening to increases in bad behavior," Albright said. "Bottom line."

Sheriff's budget

Earlier in the meeting, Martin presented the proposed budget for the sheriff's office. He is requesting. $702,000, an increase from last year's $623,445.

Martin said he would like to hire three additional deputies, "to keep in step with courthouse security."

"We talked about that last year, to do something every year, to get courthouse security in place," Martin said.

The following year, the county could get the metal detectors put in place, and in the third year, focus on restricting access to the third floor.

Commission Chairman Allen Warren asked what the three deputies would do during the first year. Martin said if they are not Kansas Officer Certified, they would be attending the law enforcement academy, they would perform regular officer duties.

Martin also included additional money for records management, from $8,500 to $12,000, which will cover the service contract. The system is the same used by the Fort Scott Police Department, which will allow the two entities to share information, Martin said.

Also increased is the amount budgeted for fuel and ammunition. Martin said the amount is based on $5 per gallon due to the unrest in the Middle East. He also hopes to buy additional ammunition for training purposes.

"I'd rather spend 32 cents on a bullet for training than a million dollars for a lawsuit because an officer has been killed," Martin said.

The Sheriff's Office budget shows a decrease in funds for vehicles, from $56,000 to $38,000. Martin said last year, he had requested replacing eight vehicles, but that number was reduced to six due to "budget restraints." Martin said the department still has three aged Crown Victorias and a pickup.

The department is "in dire need" of portable and vehicle radios. He said, one radio has quit working and vehicles had to be changed so the deputy had access to a radio.

"That is something that we definitely, definitely, definitely need," Martin said. "The biggest complaints I have from deputies and also dispatch is that they cannot communicate or hear one another."

If the commissioners approve three additional officers and seven vehicles, the cost to upgrade radios will be about $30,000, according to Martin. If no personnel or vehicles are added in, the cost would be $23,000.

Martin also is asking for a 3-percent pay increase for his employees, but commissioners said they have asked department heads and elected officials to leave out any raises so that all budgets are "apples to apples."

Southeast Kansas Regional Correctional Center budget

Like Martin, Jail Administrator Bobby Reed included a raise for his employees -- 2 percent. He said he doesn't know when they last received an increase other than cost of living and they are lowest paid county employees.

Also like Martin, Reed is asking to hire five additional correctional officers, which he said will cut down "drastically" the amount of overtime.

"Last year, in 2014 when we had the budget crunch, I was new to this, I gave my captain's position up," Reed said. "I believe, and this is just my belief, the hiring of additional employees will cut down on overtime."

He said he doesn't know how much it will save, but he knows if he has people on duty, he wouldn't have to ask staff to work overtime.

As of Monday, the jail's salaries total $516,271, but he is asking for $654,000 with no salary increases, $667,000 including a 2-percent salary increase, or $680,000 for the salary increase, plus a 2-percent COLA. Currently there are three people working each shift.

He said he would like to have five people on each shift, which includes a captain that was eliminated for 2014 and two lieutenants. He said the overtime occurs when someone is on vacation or calls in sick or a transport is needed.

Martin said Reed and Director of Security Julie Miller spend a lot of time escorting inmates to court when they could be doing their own duties. Additional staff means that a correctional officer could be escorting inmates, he said.

Second District Commission Barbara Albright asked if the same number of employees will be needed for a new jail. Reed said it would be about the same.

"In previous public meetings you said you wouldn't need any more," Warren said.

"It would be the same amount of employees we have if we have a new jail, from all the jails we've visited," Reed said.

"Doing more with less is starting to catch up with us in overtime," Martin said.

Albright persisted that she believed additional staff wouldn't be necessary with a new jail. Martin said there should be 15, which does not include administrative staff.

In the meantime, Reed said he is setting his budget to house 20 inmates outside the county. As of Monday, there were 11 housed out.

He also has increased money for inmate meals because costs continue to rise. The biggest increase is in his capital outlay fund to replace a transport van. The replacement will have to have a cage and a camera.

He also is hoping to replace nine showers in the jail, kitchen cabinets and intercom console. He said the console will not be "high-tech" because the wiring in the current facility will not accommodate such an upgrade.

He also has figured $28,000 into the budget money to conduct a survey to determine if citizens will support a bond issue for a new jail, as well as a special election.

County Clerk Kendell Mason said the cost would be reduced if the issue could be placed on the ballot during a regular election, such as in April.

She also said valuation is expected to be slightly higher than in 2014.

"I do appreciate you giving us estimates on what we need to keep that jail in good form," Albright said. "I do appreciate it, because have to look at it."

Reed said the items he has chosen to replace are what he has placed at the top of his list.