Rise in indigent fees discussed

STEUBENVILLE – The rise in indigent fees for clients appearing before local magistrates was discussed during Thursday’s meeting of the Jefferson County commissioners.

In a letter to commissioners, county Auditor Patrick Marshall requested additional fees for a number of county courts to pay for lawyers to represent clients who have been declared indigent. In the letter, Marshall requested an additional $62,800 for anticipated indigent fees in November.

Commissioners reacted with alarm at the news, noting indigent fees have been steadily increasing during the several past months. Commissioner Tom Gentile asked how much the county had paid on the fees for this year, and was told the amount was about $350,000. Gentile asked if he could obtain a 10-year report on what the county previously spent on indigent fees.

Commissioner Thomas Graham agreed the fees were increasing. He added the county paid expenses for local grand juries and trials. He added that the grand jury that is investigating possible indictments in the Steubenville rape case was being conducted by the state, but the county was paying for it. Graham said the rise in fees was alarming, but, “We want justice served.”

Graham said at present, the county pays for 60 percent of indigent costs, while the state picks up the remaining 40 percent.

Commissioner Dave Maple asked if there were other ways to reduce the increase. Maple added that while he wasn’t second-guessing the decisions of judges, he wondered if there might be a more inexpensive way to fairly represent indigent clients. He added every possible route should be explored to keep a lid on costs.

“We need to talk to the state and see if we can get (the state’s portion of funds) increased,” said Graham.

In other matters:

– Commissioners approved a contract to help JB Green Team – a portion of the Jefferson Belmont Regional Waste Authority – to hire two officers to patrol and enforce laws regarding to illegal dumping and littering in Jefferson and Belmont counties. Maple said the agreement would help put teeth into existing laws regarding dumping by having one officer from each county responsible for catching violators and those who litter.

The agreement stipulates the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department would be responsible for enforcement in Jefferson County, with the solid waste authority supplying $25,000 for a new vehicle that would be used specifically for litter enforcement as well as radio equipment. A similar contract would have to be presented to Belmont County commissioners for their approval.

Gentile said he hoped the Jefferson County prosecutor’s office would take any possible charges stemming from enforcement seriously. Graham and Gentile commended Maple for spearheading the effort leading to the agreement.

“I can’t tell you how long I’ve been waiting to sign this document,” said Maple, adding improved enforcement and prosecution of those who litter and illegally dump was a start toward changing mindsets on the matter. “We need a culture change here concerning dumping in our environment.”

Maple also said he’d heard outside concerns doing business in Jefferson County express that “this area has more of a litter problem than other areas.”

The contract runs through Sept. 30.

– Commissioners expressed dismay with MS Consulting Co. and Rudzik Excavating Co. with what they said was the failure of the contractors to follow up on final work for the Crestview/Belvedere sewer project. Commissioners were particularly concerned with what they contend was Rudzik’s failure to adequately apply topsoil as stipulated in a contract and MS Consulting’s failure to address the issue.

“Why are we even hearing this from you?” Graham asked Shannon Gosbin, sanitary engineer, regarding specifications of the project. “You or MS Consulting should be dealing with this issue – not us.”

Gentile agreed with Graham.

“I’m tired of Rudzik saying they won’t do this or they won’t do that when it’s in the project specifications,” said a frustrated Gentile. “I’m extremely disappointed with MS Consulting’s inspection process. These problems should have been taken care of instead of landing on our desks.” Maple indicated he wasn’t satisfied.

“I’m hoping MS Consulting gives us a completion date,” he said.

Commissioners also said if the problems persist they would turn the issue over to the contractor’s bonding company.