SIDNEY – The possibility of cutting services and taking on thousands of dollars in new expenses as a result of lost grant funding was discussed Thursday during a meeting of the Shelby County commissioners.
Shelby County Common Pleas Judge James Stevenson and Court Administrator Lori Moore visited the commissioners Thursday afternoon to discuss the Adult Probation Department losing grant funding. They reported Shelby County was not eligible for automatic renewal and subsequently lost a Justice Reinvestment Incentive Grant from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections for not meeting goals in reducing the number of people sent to prison.
The lost grant, which had given the county $226,858 from Dec. 1, 2017 through June 30, 2019, combined with other revenue worries including the Sheriff’s Department learning it will see a reduction in DARE funding caused concern for the commissioners.
“We were looking at the revenues this morning and not every line item is coming in nice and rosy,” Commissioner Julie Ehemann said. “I think we’re going to have to do some digging here.”
The JRIG grant had allowed Shelby County to hire an additional probation officer and increase other officers’ weekly hours from 32.5 to 40. A receptionist also was moved from being a part-time employee to a full-time employee working 32.5 hours a week.
Additionally, the grant helped pay for equipment for the probation department, housing costs, Vivitrol shots, drug tests and more in an effort to combat the opioid epidemic and reduce the prison population.
“We were very aggressive in trying to find different programs for people as opposed to sending them to prison,” Stevenson said. “And typically I would say it was at least the second, third, maybe fourth time that they violated before we would say enough is enough.”
The guidelines on how the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections judged the success of grant recipients changed midway through the program, Stevenson and Moore said, which contributed to Shelby County not meeting its goals and not being eligible to renew the grant.
“Part of the issue, too, was we were putting high-risk offenders on community control that before this grant maybe would not have gotten a chance on community control,” Moore said. “So if you’re putting high-risk offenders on, there’s a higher risk they’re going to reoffend.”
To continue full funding of the Adult Probation Department, which would include hiring a new employee to replace a probation officer who recently resigned, would cost Shelby County approximately $25,000 for the rest of the year.
Moore estimated it would cost the county $125,000 in 2020 to replace the recently departed probation officer, maintain employees’ current hours and give employees a raise of 2 to 3 percent.
“You combine that 125 (thousand dollars) with potentially 50 (thousand dollars) for the D.A.R.E. program, or maybe a little bit more, you’ve got a chunk of change,” Commissioner Tony Bornhorst said.
Moore offered other possibilities on how the probation department could save money. It could choose not to hire a new probation officer or it could hire a new probation officer but reduce hours for all officers to the previous level of 32.5 hours a week.
Bornhorst questioned whether not hiring another probation officer would reduce morale among current officers.
“They are expressing concern about the case load and especially concern about the time and the effort that they have to put in, but I haven’t heard anybody say I’m going to quit,” Stevenson said.
If a new probation officer isn’t hired, the county wouldn’t be able to make as many home visits and would spend less time with each individual on probation, Moore said.
“We’ll still service everyone, just that service is going to go down,” she said.
Commissioner Bob Guillozet suggested the commissioners and court staff should lobby the state for more investment.
“This is not a good time to be cutting these kind of services,” he said. “This drug problem, yeah, the deaths have slowed down right now, but we’re going to deal with the outcome of these drug problems for years to come.”
Other options to replace the lost grant funding were discussed, such as increasing probation services fees for those on community control from the current $20 a month rate.
“We could raise that to let’s say $25, which would give us a little bit more in revenue but it’s not going to pay for another full-time person,” Moore said.
Attempts to secure new grant funding have been unsuccessful.
“We’ve been told that basically every single new grant application was returned with no funds available,” Stevenson said.
Taking on additional funding for the probation department became more difficult this week, Bornhorst said. The Shelby County Sheriff’s Department learned on Wednesday its DARE funding will be reduced 35 percent and fears of a looming recession also play into the equation.
“We have to play it really close to the vest for 2020 because the dynamics have changed here on that part,” Bornhorst said. “Two days ago I wouldn’t have said that.”
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