By Liz Shepherd
WARSAW — Financials were the focal point of Kosciusko County Council’s July 9 meeting, with several appropriations, grant requests and transfers approved by council members.
Kosciusko Superior Court 2 Judge Torrey Bauer asked the council for $150,000 in additional appropriations for pauper counsel fees for Superior Courts 2 and 3. Pauper counsel is granted by judges in criminal cases when defendants cannot afford to hire an attorney to represent them in court. Bauer noted an increase in both misdemeanor and felony cases as reasoning for additional appropriations.
“When I started six years ago, I think I had 1,200 misdemeanors (a year),” said Bauer. “I’ve got 1,700 misdemeanors now a year plus 300 felony cases on top of that. Criminal Rule 26 has also hit us hard because we’ve lost the ability to use cash bonds.”
Bauer said four out-of-county attorneys are on his pauper counsel roll due to the number of cases local public defenders are currently handling.
“The public defender’s counsel has a weighted measurement where you’re only allowed to handle so many and if you give them more than that, then the state won’t reimburse you,” said Bauer. “I’m not aware of any mid-sized county like ours that has a public defender’s office. They all handle it with local counsel and pay them the same way we try to pay them.”
Council approved the appropriations and discussed the possibility of other courts following suit.
“If more people are unemployed and there’s an increase in domestic violence and other things that are projected from this time period, we’re going to see a lot more (criminal cases),” said Council Member Kimberly Cates.
Two budget reduction ordinances, two additional appropriations, three salary ordinance amendments and one fund transfer for Kosciusko County Sheriff Kyle Dukes were also approved by council. Several of the adjustments focused on the county’s work release program.
“Work release has never had its own budget,” said Dukes. “I think it’s crucial that work release have its own budget. And, when you create your own budget for work release, I’m basically here to clean this up and make the adjustments.”
“This is certainly increasing the transparency of what you’re doing,” said Council Member Sue Ann Mitchell. “Everyone can see what exactly is being spent and being able to justify that.”
The following was also approved at the council meeting:
- A salary ordinance amendment for Kosciusko Superior Court 1 Judge David Cates’ new court reporter was approved.
- Kosciusko County Prosecutor Dan Hampton was granted permission to apply for a 2021 VOCA (Victims of Crime Act) grant.
- Kosciusko County Health Department Administrator Bob Weaver was granted permission to apply for a 2021 public health emergency preparedness grant.
- Kosciusko County Emergency Management Director Ed Rock was granted permission to apply for two grants.
- A $3,300 transfer from Kosciusko County’s Purdue Extension travel fund to its 4-H STEM program assistant fund was approved.
- Kosciusko County Commissioner Cary Groninger was granted permission to transfer $200,000 in the county’s EDIT fund.
- Real property abatements for Louis Dreyfus Company Agricultural Industries LLC and Cass Holdings LLC were approved.
- Personal property abatements for LSC Communications and Louis Dreyfus Company Agricultural Industries LLC were approved.
- Council approved Helen Hall continuing to serve on the Pierceton Library board.
Toward the end of the meeting, council members discussed approaches they would like to see county department heads take for their 2021 budgets. Council Member Doug Heinisch proposed that department heads incorporate a 10% budget reduction column in their proposals.
“My experience is people won’t do it unless they’re forced to,” said Heinisch. “It’ll make them consider and think about that.”
Council Member Ernie Wiggins noted that the proposal would lead to more work for the departments while preparing their budgets.
“We all know COVID-19 is going to have a very negative impact on income and revenue streams and we need their help in making sure that the budget they submit is realistic,” said Council Member Joni Truex. “We’re not going to have the revenue streams that we had been blessed with in previous years.”
Council members voted against the proposed 10% budget reduction column, with Heinisch and Cates voting in favor, while Mitchell, Truex, Wiggins and Jon Garber voted in opposition. Council Member Mike Long abstained from voting.
County council’s next meeting will be at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 13.