Finney County commissioners on Monday voted unanimously to rescind the motion of keeping pay for the county's indigent services attorneys at a flat rate for renegotiation in 2019, which was voted on during the Oct. 16 meeting.
Along with rescinding the motion, commissioners unanimously approved a revised contract that proposed leaving 2018 at the same rate as 2017, but increases the 2019 amount by $10,000. The contract initially was countered by the current panel of six attorneys contracted by Finney County to handle cases for defendants deemed indigent by Finney County District Court.
The panel requested a $10,000 increase to its annual pay over 2018 and 2019 prior to the 2018 budget process. During the final budget workshop in July, commissioners imposed a $10,000 decrease to the District Court budget, effectively nullifying the requested pay increase to indigent services.
The panel of attorneys was presented with a revised contract last month that would keep pay rates flat with 2017 over 2018 and 2019. The panel countered with a contract proposal to keep the pay rate flat in 2018 but allot the requested $10,000 increase in 2019.
Because the panel currently shares a budget with District Court, the 2018 cut imposed on District Court directly impacted the request by the panel made shortly before budget cuts were executed.
The county currently allots $549,000 for indigent legal services on an annual basis, with $480,000 of that amount set aside for the panel of six attorneys that handle every case for indigent defendants. The remaining $69,000 is dedicated on an annual basis to the establishment of a Conflicts Panel Fund to process payments to lawyers not serving on the indigent legal services panel.
Per the panel's requested pay increase, the county would allot $559,000 to indigent services on an annual basis, with $490,000 of that amount dedicated to the six lawyers.
Also during Monday’s meeting, commissioners approved $1,000 be given to the Western Kansas Child Advocacy Center, per the request of County Attorney Susan Richmeier.
WKCAC is based in Scott City and helps children and families of abuse heal their trauma through prevention, support and other services.
Richmeier said the organization covers all of southwest Kansas, and at the beginning of 2017, it began working with law enforcement within Finney County to provide services to interview children of abuse.
“These are professionals that are trained specifically to talk to children who are abused or about things that have happened to them,” Richmeier said of WKCAC. “They are in the process now of raising funds in order to sustain that service here in Finney County and in southwest Kansas.”
Richmeier noted that the organization has not been in Finney County for long and that county investigators have been the ones investigating up to eight to 10 child abuse cases a week, so allocating some resources to WKCAC will help alleviate some of the workload for county investigators.
The money allocated to the organization will come from collected Diversion Funds.
So far this calendar year, there is $77,000 collected in diversion funds, according to County Administrator Randy Partington, and when diversion funds are collected, those funds are put into the general fund for county use.
The diversion fund account is not tied specifically to the county attorney’s office, Richmeier said, which is why she had to go before commissioners on the request.
“They (diversion funds) go directly into the general fund for use by the county, and that’s by statute,” she said. “… It just seems like a good use of those funds. I mean, the people that are putting the money into that fund are people that are doing the abuse. It just seems to make sense to me.”
In other business:
• Commissioners approved a cost share for the construction of a lateral gravity sewage line. In previous meetings, the commission approved a lateral sewer district to Sewer District No. 1. The district was formed to serve a new building in the Garden City Industrial Park, LLC owned by TP&L. The developers have asked for assistance, in the form of a cost share, for the construction of the lateral gravity line. The passage of a resolution was postponed so that options for a cost share could be examined.
The county will pay $32,502.23, or half of the $65,004.46 construction costs.
Sewer District No. 1 could recoup the expense by forming a special benefit district that would charge future users that hook up to the new sewer line.