Commissioners question state budget

By Frank Lewis - [email protected]

A couple of years ago, the state of Ohio raised its portion of what the county pays out to provide legal assistance for indigent defendants from 40 percent to 50 percent. Now the Governor is forming a blue ribbon commission to look into the percentage the state will kick in and Scioto County Commission Chairman Bryan Davis says he does not know if that percentage will go up or down. At the very least, Davis said ti is an ongoing issue for the commissioners.

“Out of $58,363.49 as expended for indigent defense for one month, December. We were supposed to get 40 percent. We received $25,679.94 back,” Davis said. “In the budget that Governor (John) Kasich has put out there and is being mulled over by the legislature right now, last year it was take up to 50 percent. They’re wheeling it back to 40 and now according to the budget and what we were told at the meeting last week with the legislators, that the idea was to have the Ohio Supreme Court have a blue ribbon commission decide who gets what. Our percentage may go down further or it may go back up, depending on what that criteria is.”

State Representative Terry Johnson, State Senator Joe Uecker and State Representative John Becker of Hamilton were all involved in the meeting with commissioners from several counties. Becker reportedly referred to the process as picking winners and losers. In addition to Scioto, commissioners from Clermont, Brown and Adams counties were on hand.

“I have said this multiple times, I’ll say it again,” Davis said. “The Constitution of the state of Ohio says ‘the state shall provide an indigent defense,’”

Davis said it is an example of costs being pushed down on the counties.

“If you look at it and you multiply it out, and say we average $25,000 a month after reimbursement, you times that by 12 ($300,000) that’s what we’re paying out in indigent defense in this county,” Davis said. “Crime doesn’t pay, it’s getting more expensive, and it is breaking the bank in this county, between what’s happening with the (Scioto County) Jail, which is not his (Sheriff Marty V. Donini) fault, it is the rules that we play by, the 190 bed limit and we are now maxed out after 10 years, we have filled our jail with our own inmates, and the cost is a half-a-million dollar swing in our budget because of this.”

Davis said, after the reimbursement by the state went to 50 percent, after many years the public defenders were given a raise last year to put them in line with surrounding counties. – “and now they’re forming a blue ribbon commission to determine what’s fair for public defenders to be paid.”

he said the problem is statewide and the issues concerning the state’s taking the decision out of the hands of the commissioners, is being raised all over the state by the County Commissioners Association.

“We battle through it. We work with our legislators to change it,” Davis said. “I know Joe Uecker is a champion on this item. He is a supporter of the (state paying) 100 percent. He is a supporter of the Constitution. He has gone to bat multiple times for the counties.”

Davis said he is hearing the new Kasich budget is going to be extremely tight.

The city of Portsmouth recently objected to a portion of the state budget that will take tax collections out of local government hands and turn that job over to the state, the state taking a percentage in the process.

By Frank Lewis

[email protected]

Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.

Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.