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Sunday, August 02, 2015

Ind. Courts - Probation funds may be at issue again in SE Indiana

Some readers may recall Sept. 2007 Supreme Court decision in Clark County Council and Clark County Auditor v. Daniel F. Donahue, Cecile A. Blau, Vicki Carmichael, and Steven M. Fleece, the probation fees case about which the ILB had many posts. As explained in the Louisville Courier Journal on March 1, 2007:

In 2003, the [Clark Co.] council decided to start using about $500,000 in probation fees collected each year by the four county courts to pay court expenses previously covered by the county's general fund.

The judges filed suit against the council in 2005, arguing that state law gives them -- and not the county council -- the authority to determine how to spend probation user fees.

The council argued that it was forced to take control of the probation funds because of the fiscal crisis and that state law allowing local courts to collect and use probation fees can be interpreted to give the council authority over the funds.

The council has continued to exert its control over the fees by using them in the county budget for this year.

On Sept. 27, 2007, the LCJ wrote of the Supreme Court's decision the date before:
In a case watched closely by judges statewide, the Indiana Supreme Court said yesterday that Clark County's judges -- not the County Council -- have the authority to determine how to use about $500,000 in probation fees collected annually.

But the court also upheld the council's appropriation authority, saying the council can determine how much of the fees are spent from year to year.

Today Daniel Suddeath of the New Albany News and Tribune has a long story about neighboring Floyd County, headed "Millions in funds can't be touched by Floyd County Council." Some quotes:
NEW ALBANY — Though some officials cautioned utilizing the money would only be a temporary solution to budget shortfalls, Floyd County departments have more than $2.6 million in non-reverting funds that could be spent on expenses like salaries and operations. * * *

In June, Floyd County's four judges joined Floyd County Prosecutor Keith Henderson and Sheriff Frank Loop in threatening to not cut their budgets as ordered by the county council.

Floyd County Superior Court No. 1 Judge Susan Orth suggested the county liquidate assets or borrow money to keep from cutting budgets, which was to include a $136,795 deduction from the public safety and legal departments.
What was not suggested, as the county council cannot mandate how departments spend non-reverting funds, was that the judges and prosecutor tap into money they can spend at their discretion.

Chris Lane, the attorney for the county council, said Friday he's finalizing his opinion on whether four probation administrative service accounts and a diversion fund that are under the realm of the judges are non-reverting funds.
Those accounts had more than $590,000 in existing funds as of June 30, and about $365,000 had been spent out of the pot prior to July 1.

"I would say it makes it really difficult for a taxpayer to understand how we have $600,000 in non-reverting funds in probation, but we're not able to make an $80,000 cut in that department," Floyd County Council President Matt Oakley said Friday.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on August 2, 2015 07:20 PM
Posted to Indiana Courts | Indiana Government