WARSAW — Kosciusko County Council hashed out final details to the proposed 2020 budget and heard a staunch argument from one of the county’s judges regarding the need for another probation officer thanks to a state-mandated edict geared toward relieving crowded jails.
While County Council tied up loose ends and heard presentations regarding the budgets for the Kosciusko County Solid Waste Management District and the North Webster Community Public Library, Superior Court I Judge David Cates told the panel that the county will soon need a twelfth probation officer to help with workload when a new program called Criminal Rule 26 takes effect next year.
The new program, designed to reduce jail populations by allowing some alleged offenders to await the adjudication of their cases outside of jail, will likely have a negative effect on county revenue while creating more work for probation officers, Cates said.
“Criminal Rule 26 is not a local initiative, this is something mandated by the Indiana Supreme Court and codified by the legislature. This is something that becomes effective in our county Jan. 1.”
Cates told the council that the concept involves pre-trial release of those accused of crimes and viewed as a low-risk threat.
“We have competing constitutional perspectives here,” he said. “One is that a criminal defendant accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty. Second is people are entitled to bail for most crimes. But, we also have to keep the community safe.”
Cates told the council that the option for bail for an offender will be based on an “evidence-based risk assessment, approved by the office of court services. The office of court services is an arm of the Indiana Supreme Court.”
The assessment, called an IRS PAT, or Indiana Risk Assessment System Pre-Trial Assessment Tool, is designed to “gauge the likelihood of an arrestee’s failure to appear and danger to the community,” Cates said.
Cates said a team of personnel from several different, but pertinent disciplines will head to Indianapolis Oct. 4 to learn more about the program.
Earlier this month, the council had resisted a request to add a probation officer.
Cates brought the point home regarding the importance of adding an additional probation officer as it relates to the impending new policy.
“IRS PAT requires a certified administrator,” Cates said. “The only such folks that we have in the county who are certified administrators are probation officers.”
Cates said his current corps of probation officers are tasked with keeping tabs on scores of offenders and with the new program, the workload will only become more challenging.
“I want them monitoring offenders as much as possible,” Cates said. “That’s why we need more people.”
County Council President Sue Ann Mitchell asked Cates about the expected impact of one additional officer.
“Even one additional probation officer, working just regular hours, it’s going to make a huge impact,” he said. “It’s going to help us tremendously.”
The council approved the request with all members voting for the approval with the exception of Kimberly Cates, who abstained because she is married to Judge Cates.
Joni Truex made the motion, noting that the request is “due to the unfunded state mandate.”
Councilman Mike Long added, “I would second that motion as much as I despise state mandates.”
The council also gave the preliminary nod to the solid waste budget of $754,475 and the North Webster library budget of $1,270,237. The council agreed to remove the non-profit status of the Animal Welfare League, and instead will contract with the organization for a fee of $150,000 annually.
All told, Mitchell estimated the new 2020 budget resulted in the addition of 12 new county employees.
In addition, the council transferred $2 million from the county’s CEDIT column into the general fund and approved a recommendation from Auditor Michelle Puckett regarding Max Levy Rates for Reassessment, Health Department and Cumulative Bridge. More details on this action will appear on Friday, Aug. 23 on InkFreeNews.com.
The council will give final approval to the proposed 2020 budget at its 7 p.m. regular meeting on Sept. 12.