City bills remain unpaid

By JOY BROWN
STAFF WRITER

Findlay is not paying Hancock County for criminal and court-related services until contracts, which are still being negotiated, are signed.

The city has not paid for legal representation for indigent defendants who are charged under municipal code, and has not paid monthly jail inmate housing fees since the county raised the rate in April.

Administrators say there’s no reason to think the stalemates won’t eventually be resolved, but meanwhile, the county is footing the bills.

Rate increases on both fronts are coming as no surprise.

The county commissioners in January requested a $5,000 increase to the $90,000 it charged the city for indigent defense in 2013. It asked for the same increase for 2013, which the city denied.

This year, a different outcome is expected. City Council’s Appropriation’s Committee on Tuesday recommended approval of the defense services increase after county Public Defender Commission Chairman Roger Miller presented members with more details.

Miller said it costs $258 per case for the public defender to provide legal services to such defendants. Attorneys handled 723 of those cases last year, which totaled $186,534.

“Under the proposed $95,000… the city would pay only $132 per case…,” or about 52 percent of the actual cost, Miller wrote in a summary.

“The increase we’re asking for today is extremely modest,” Miller told the committee. “The numbers show what a huge subsidy the county has been providing the city over time.”

Miller said the county intends to seek more drastic increases for 2015 and beyond.

“We’re not looking to do anything but get to a zero balance with cost of services,” he said.

But in the meantime, “We haven’t gotten any money from you guys and ladies,” said Miller, despite an appeal in January that included a drafted contract. The 2013 contract expired at the end of last year, and the state is threatening to withhold its monthly contributions until a contract between the local governments is signed, he said.

Law Director Don Rasmussen, at the Tuesday meeting and afterward, said more information is necessary before a new indigent defense agreement can be reached. He said he’d like more figures that include how much the state contributes to the county for such work, which he thinks should be considered in the per-case cost calculation.

Concerning inmate costs, the county in April raised its inmate fee by 53 percent from $55 to $84 per day, according to Becky Smith, the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office’s fiscal officer. The hike was the first the county has made in 25 years.

Told that county officials were likely to hold firm on the increase, City Council earlier this year authorized Mayor Lydia Mihalik to sign a contract that reflected that amount, which officials estimate will cost the city an additional $350,000.

On Wednesday, the mayor said she hasn’t signed the contract because of two sticking points: the document doesn’t address the issue of the county charging for a full day of housing for inmates who had stayed as little as one hour during their first day in jail; nor does it require the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office to transport city inmates elsewhere if there isn’t enough room here.

Mihalik said state law has that transportation caveat, but “the sheriff has not complied with that section in the past, and the municipal judges are insistent on it being included as a part of the contract, the reason being that we have many defendants that are sentenced to jail show up to serve their time at the jail and then are turned away, some as many as eight to 10 times.”

Commissioner Mark Gazarek has been working with the city on jail fee matters, but was not available for comment this week.

Smith said continued nonpayment by the city wouldn’t affect jail operations for the time being, since payments are made to the county’s general fund.

Brown: 419-427-8496
Send an E-mail to Joy Brown
Twitter: @CourierJoy

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