Judges not looking for additional funds

Published 10:17 am Friday, December 11, 2009

The judges say they are making do.

During budget hearings earlier this week, Lawrence County Juvenile Probate Judge David Payne and Lawrence County Municipal Court Judge Donald Capper told the Lawrence County Commission that while their offices and understaffed are overworked, they understand the county’s financial plight and have tried to live within their budgets in the year coming to a close.

Neither asked for additional money in next year’s budget. The budget hearings are meant to determine what each office’s needs are and how all these needs can be met with the county’s dwindling revenues.

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Commissioners anticipate having $1.5 million in its general fund due to sluggish sales taxes, anticipated cuts in state allocations and a drop in interest income.

Payne said there are two vacancies in juvenile court.

Those vacancies will not be filled; the duties of those jobs will be given to other employees who is taking on the additional work assignments.

“As much as is possible we’d like for you to fund our budget,” Payne told the commissioners.

Payne does have outside sources of revenue that can be used during the year to pay salaries and other expenses, but he needs the commission’s money at the beginning of the year and can likely transfer money back to the general fund later on as he obtains the federal and state monies.

Payne said in previous years, it was almost as if he were penalized for staying within his budget.

If he stayed within his budget and was able to give money back at the end of the year, then his budget was cut the following year.

Capper said while he is mindful of the county’s budget constraints, he is understaffed and probably needs at least one probation officer as well as a clerk.

Capper said he may be able to save money by partnering with the Lawrence County Common Pleas Court for home confinement. Right now the Cabell County, W.Va., probation agency handles in-home confinement for Capper’s court but charges Lawrence County for the electronic supervision units whether they are in use or not.

“Home confinement is better financially but if something bad happens, you get the blame,” Stephens said “I don¹t envy your position.”

Capper said one of his most pressing concerns is that of record storage. He is almost out of room at his courthouse for storage of records that must be kept. Commissioners said there may be room for record storage at other county buildings.

Capper said in the past he has dipped into his capital improvements line item to make ends meet in other areas, and is not putting money into that account.

This has left him with little cash for such things as parking lot repairs. He also needs to upgrade some computer software.

Better software could alleviate the burden on his small staff.

He credited his staff with making a bad situation work. He said sometimes staff members work off the clock to get work done.

“We’re busy, we’re really busy,” Capper said. “We’re trying to be self-sufficient. We collect (in fees and court costs) about what we take out (of the general fund). We don’t like to raise fees but the ones who use the court ought to be the ones paying for it.”