Indigent probationers add more burden

By Valerie Werkmeister
With little choice and much discussion, Posey County Council members approved a $90,064 additional appropriation request to fund six probation officer salaries during their monthly meeting, Tuesday, January 14.
Rodney Fetcher, chief probation officer, addressed the council to give them information on why the budgetary shortfall exists. The salaries are partially funded with fees paid by the probationers. Fetcher stated there are currently 320 adult and juvenile participants on probation in Posey County. The fees, as well as the probation officer’s salaries are set by the state. If the probation clients are unable to pay their monthly probation fees, a civil judgment is entered against them. Ultimately, the shortfall in fee collection means the county must cover that much more of the probation officer’s salaries.
The fees are also used to pay for supplies, training, travel and drug testing for the probation clients.
While the fees have never been enough to fully fund the salaries, more fees were collected in years past. The amounts have dwindled recently as many probation clients struggle financially or have lost their jobs. It is a clear sign of the current economic times.
Posey County Council President Bob Gentil went over the fees collected in past years. In 2008, a total of $97,500 was collected. The next year, $84,000 was brought in and in 2010, the amount dipped to $73,000. During the years of 2011-2013, the total fees collected each year averaged between $60,000-$62,000.
The total of the six probation officer’s salaries is $217,326. Gentil noted that the county general fund must then compensate roughly $156,000.
“Now, the thing of it is we’ve got to solve a problem here. Knowing that the fees are never going to pay 100 percent of these salaries and knowing that we have no control of the salaries that are set by the state, it still has to be funded. We’re currently in a negative balance and we’re going to have to at this time, take some kind of action that’s going to fund these negative balances and fund these probation salaries for either the year or a period of time,” Bob Gentil said.
Council members discussed partially funding the salaries for a six-month time period in order to allow time for the fees to be collected. Gentil countered that if they voted to fully fund the salaries now, the collected fees could later be used to help offset next year’s salary budget figures.
In the end, council members decided funding the full appropriation request was the right choice at this time.
The council voted to retain Gentil as president and Alan Blackburn as vice-president. They also approved Greg Reynolds to the ABC Board; Don Mattingly to the Area Plan Commission; Ruth Redman to the Board of Review, Ralph Weinzapfel and Jon Neufelder to the Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana; Mitch Luman to the EMA Advisory board; Charles Jansen, Phillip Werry, Tim Flemming and Leitha Deig to the EMS Board; Amy Stephens to the Poseyville Carnegie Public Library Board; Rodney Wade and Gary Thiem to the Redevelopment Board; Jim Elless to the Poseyville Economic Development Commission; Martin Redman to the Solid Waste Board; and Vicki Simpson to the Southwest Mental Health Board.
Beth McFadin-Higgins was chosen to continue to represent the council as the attorney. She stated her fees will remain the same as last year at $165 per hour. The council also called on Higgins to represent them during Redevelopment Commission meetings.
Discussion of an employee handbook was put on hold until the council can meet in executive session with the commissioners. Blackburn suggested the two bodies meet to go through the proposed handbook page by page to discuss concerns. No date has been set yet.
Commissioner Jerry Walden addressed the council regarding hiring a new Veteran’s Service Officer for Posey County. Walden stated the commissioners have interviewed three potential candidates, but no official decision has been made. Walden stated that due to new federal and state mandates the position requires training and accreditation. Officers must work no less than 1,000 hours which equates to approximately 20 hours per week. Posey County has only budgeted approximately $10,000 for the salary, which will need to be raised in order to adequately compensate the requirements of the position. No action was taken at this time.
Dr. Kyle Rapp introduced the new health department nurse, Kristina Carter, to the council. Rapp asked for authorization to appropriate $4,000 to her salary. The health department funds Carter’s salary and no county funds are expended. However, the council must still give their authorization for the health department to utilize their funds. The council approved his request.

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