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Judge deems court budget 'unrealistic, inadequate'

Feb. 01, 2013 @ 12:25 AM

IRONTON -- Lawrence County Municipal Judge Don Capper ordered the Lawrence County Board of Commissioners to put an additional $72,000 in his budget this year.

The commissioners received and filed Capper's order, but didn't transfer the court-ordered funds during a board meeting Thursday at the courthouse in Ironton.

Capper called the budget appropriations for the municipal court "totally unrealistic and inadequate."

He said court staff haven't been given a raise or bonus for two years and that the court is operating at its minimum staffing necessary to carry out its judicial duties and no further reductions in staff are possible.

The board earlier cut most salary accounts of county officeholders by 23.5 percent in this year's budget.

The money Capper said he budgeted for municipal court "is reasonable and necessary."

"The court further finds that the amount ordered is within the amount the court typically pays into the Lawrence County general fund from fines and costs collected on an annual basis," Capper said in the order. "The court paid in $552,000 into the (county's) general fund last year."

"Judge Capper and his staff are very efficient and do a good job," said Commissioner Bill Pratt. "Right now there's not much we can do. Hopefully, we'll get more revenue as the year goes on."

Capper also ordered the approval of a contract with Henschen and Associates for $104,742 for new computers and software for the court, replacing an existing server that is more than 10 years old as well as out-of-date software. "If the server fails, the court comes to a standstill."

The court has money set aside for the computer upgrade, according to Capper.

The 2013 budget Capper ordered is $505,399. About $300,000 is for salaries and nearly $90,000 for health insurance.

"This court has made substantial reductions in staffing over the last few years by virtue of layoffs and by not replacing staff members who have retired and requiring existing staff members to take on additional duties," Capper said in the order.

Ohio law allows judges to set a budget they feel adequate to administer their courts.

The court handled 5,852 cases last year, including nearly 3,500 traffic cases.

In other action, the board:

Heard a report from Buddy Fry that the county ambulance district is handling an average of 28 calls per day.

Extended the time to buy 2013 dog tags through Feb. 28.

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