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Clinton County Council increases court hours

By Katharine Calabro - kcalabro@ftimes.com

The County Council is adding $71,000 to the baseline budget for 2019 to increase employment hours within the criminal justice system from 32 hours per week to 35 hours per week.

The major policy change affects the superior and circuit courts, and prosecutor and county clerk’s office. Because the county is experiencing an increase in criminal cases, the council had to fund extra hours for caseloads.

Clinton County has had 1,201 criminal cases filed this year. This is good for the second highest caseload among counties with a comparable population.

County Council President Alan Dunn said the increase in hours is a factor which will determine if the county can afford to give raises to employees.

Dunn said with the caseload as high as it’s ever been, it puts a strain on the budget. He said this is something that must be managed and is technically out of the council’s hands.

“We can’t just say, ‘oh you know what I’m not going to fund that,’” Dunn said. “Everyone is constitutionally entitled to their day in court.”

He explained the increase in law enforcement over time has had a ripple effect throughout the entire criminal justice system.

“This is working through the whole system, from clerk to prosecutor to court,” Dunn said.

In order to increase hours from 32 to 35, the courts came to agreement with the council on advertised monies that could be adjusted for the 2019 budget.

Superior Court Judge Justin Hunter said because of the case overload his staff is sometimes working 40 hours per week, which is being paid by straight time. This allows them to fill the gap between 30 and 40 hours.

“I can’t remember a week where my staff hasn’t worked 40 hours,” Hunter said. “To say we’re going to get a bump in the budget up to 35 hours doesn’t really help my situation greatly.”

However, Dunn said moving to a 35 hour baseline frees up the straight time and overtime to be moved for extra help. He said this would be equal to three hours being paid by straight time that can be adjusted and shifted, allowing for Hunter to bring in extra help if need be.

The clerk’s office and sheriff’s department also requested money to be budgeted for additional workers but were denied. The clerk’s office will continue to search for other ways to allocate money for particular positions.