MOUNT VERNON — Knox County Prosecutor John Thatcher met with the Knox County Board of Commissioners on Monday for the initial budget hearing for his department. All departments have been asked to reduce their 2010 budgets by 20 percent, if possible, from the original 2009 appropriation.
The majority of the expenses in the prosecutor’s office are for personnel, with relatively little spent on supplies and equipment. The office employs three prosecutors and three legal assistants.
Thatcher brought statistics compiled from the 2008 Annual Report of the Supreme Court of Ohio comparing the activity of his office to other similarly structured counties. Compared to the other four counties in Ohio with populations between 50,000 and 60,000, which also have the judicial structure of one common pleas judge and one juvenile court/probate judge, Knox has the busiest court, the second-highest case load, the highest number of foreclosures, the highest number of juvenile court/probate case loads, and the highest number of delinquency cases.
Thatcher said that since he entered office, the Knox County court system has gone from being last among these counties to being first in terms of workload, but with the same staff size it had in the 1970s and 1980s. He added that his department also represents more townships and zoned regions within townships than any comparable county.
The target reduction for the prosecutor’s office is from $429,032 to a projected $343,255.60. Monday’s discussion did not turn up any clear routes for achieving that goal. Thatcher said he eliminated one legal assistant’s position in order to meet the reduction earlier this year, and was resistant to further personnel cuts.
“Public safety doesn’t happen without the prosecutor’s office,” Thatcher said.
The prosecutor asked if the child support collector’s salary could be reclassified so it isn’t part of the prosecutor’s office. He said that since that employee’s pay comes from federal funding, and the employee can’t be used for any other function in the prosecutor’s office, her salary shouldn’t be included as part of his total, because that inflates his salary line item in the budget.
“I have to maintain some fairness in the office,” Thatcher said.
Commissioner Teresa Bemiller said a reassignment of the child support collector’s salary could theoretically be made to the Knox County Department of Job & Family Services, although for the county’s purposes, that wouldn’t change the fact that it is still part of the total amount of money which needs to be reduced.
Thatcher also asked to not have the Furtherance of Justice fund, which is used for trial expenses, classified in his budget.
Another continuing savings initiative, Thatcher said, was that he was paying for some employee hours through the Delinquent Tax Collection fund. This fund, which consists of 5 percent of all delinquent taxes collected, is shared with the clerk of courts. Thatcher said he was concerned it won’t always be available like it is now. Commissioner Allen Stockberger said he hopes that if the economy recovered enough to lower DTAC, that would also mean regular general fund money would be sufficient for operations.
Thatcher said his office has joined with the KCDJFS, where Roger Shooter has negotiated group buying rates for supplies, saving additional money. He also renegotiated the rates for contracted counseling on foreclosure tax collection.
Stockberger asked if there would be any savings in hiring a full-time assistant prosecutor for that function, instead of a contracted one. Thatcher said that for the starting rate the county paid, the best they would get would be an assistant prosecutor fresh out of college without significant real estate experience, whereas the currently contracted lawyer has tremendous real estate experience, which makes it possible for him to bring in more collections.
The meeting went into executive session without reaching any preliminary numbers. Although a goal was set of achieving preliminary numbers by the end of this month, final numbers are not due until January.