« Ind. Courts - "Summaries of select bills or portions of bills of interest to the judiciary that were signed into law in the 2013 legislative session" | Main | Ind. Courts - "Warrick County fills new magistrate post" »

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Ind. Courts - "Court funds spark debate at Jeffersonville council meeting"

From a story by Braden Lammers in the Jeffersonville News & Tribune:

Minor changes to the city of Jeffersonville’s salary ordinance led to an extended debate about city courts funds Monday night.

The ordinance — 2013-OR-12 — was passed on its second reading, but not before the funding of a part-time clerical position was questioned.

City Council Attorney Scott Lewis said the position — which was being funded out of the city’s alcohol and drug program fees — was not allowable according to the State Board of Accounts and an Indiana Supreme Court ruling. A similar situation became an issue following a State Board of Accounts report in Clark County. Then Clark County Superior Court No. 3 was cited as improperly using its drug and alcohol funds to pay for staff and court services.

Former Clark County Superior Court No. 3 Judge Steve Fleece said at the time part of his rationale for the expenditures was related to a lack of funds in other county offices. Current Clark County Circuit Court No. 3 Judge Joseph Weber said issues about improper usage were first brought to his attention in late-2009. The issues have since been resolved.

“There were various expenses that were being paid from that fund ... that the county has to use out of the general fund and not nonreverting funds” Lewis said, who also serves as the Clark County Council attorney. “And when you read it, the statute, which creates a county alcohol education program is the same statute that creates a city alcohol program. The audit applies the same way to the city.”

Jeffersonville City Court Judge Ken Pierce said he was upset that he was not notified that the issue of changing the source of funds for the part-time position was in the salary ordinance. The part-time clerk paid out of the alcohol fund is filled as needed, generally with high school or college students. There is no one hired for the position at present.

Lewis also questioned the funding of the city court manager/reporter.

“You can’t use probation user fees to pay your court reporter’s salary,” he said.

But part of the concern for Pierce is that the change may cost him future staff.

“Now I’m especially low on staff, because — I think we’ve had this discussion before. I thought I was going to retain two staff employees and that was changed without my knowledge,” Pierce said. “Now I just have one court employee.”

Pierce was referencing a change earlier in the year that moved city court employees under control of the clerk’s office, which resulted in a lawsuit between the two entities. He added that during the past four years, no city attorneys have questioned the use of his probation user funds, nor has city council, and he has not been cited by the state board of accounts for improper use of the funds.

“I am going to find out [what is right] before I pass anything,” said Councilwoman Lisa Gill. “It has nothing to do with trying to take a position away. It’s just trying to make sure things are paid out of the funds legally and appropriately.”

The council agreed to move the court recorder’s salary into the general fund and allow Pierce time to investigate the appropriate usage for the clerical nonreverting alcohol program funds.

Other changes to the ordinance before its passage included clarification of language about the rates of pay for the chiefs of the city’s police and fire departments, the change in a city stipend from $500 to $50 per month and a change to longevity pay for the police and fire departments being subject to union contracts.

The second reading passed 8-0, with Councilman Zach Payne absent from the meeting. A final reading is still required before the salary ordinance is approved.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 5, 2013 09:28 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts