Commissioners receive request from judges to increase the indigent defense reimbursement rate
[Tiffin, OH — April 6, 2023] — Seneca County Common Pleas Court Judge Steve Shuff spoke to the commissioners about several grants and also presented a request on behalf of county judges to increase the indigent defense reimbursement rate Thursday morning.
During the session, Judge Shuff presented contracts for several grants that help fund court programs. The county commissioners provide a local match for several of these grants, which bring in more than a million dollars for probation services and the PIVOT Drug Court Program.
The PIVOT program takes people who are in the depths of addiction and helps them transition into productive, substance-free members of society through a hands-on approach by judicial officials and mental health professionals.
According to information provided by Shuff, three state grants (totaling $1,287,888 over two years) and one local grant (totaling $100,000 over one year) help to fund probation services in the county.
PIVOT receives funding through two federal grants (totaling $2,750,000 over five years) and one state grant (totaling $250,000 over one year). All of the grant funding is to total nearly $1.6 million for probation services and PIVOT for the fiscal year 2023 alone.
Shuff also asked the commissioners to consider increasing the hourly rate paid to attorneys who take on indigent defense cases. The Ohio and US Constitution guarantees a right to counsel, and Shuff said the precedent set in Gideon versus Wainwright (1963) affirms that this right applies even to those who cannot afford an attorney. Shuff said any defendant who could be incarcerated but does not have the financial means to pay for an attorney can have one appointed to them.
He said several local lawyers take on these cases, but it is becoming harder to find them because the county’s hourly rate lags behind many in the area.
In February 2020, the commissioners increased the county’s indigent defense rate to $60 an hour. The previous rate was $55 an hour for in-court work and $45 an hour for out-of-court work. This move followed a successful push by the County Commissioners Association of Ohio to get state legislators to increase the state’s reimbursement rates, shifting more of the costs away from the county. The future of this reimbursement is not clear at this time, as state legislators continue work on the operating budget to cover the next two fiscal years.
According to information gathered in January from the Ohio Public Defender’s Office, Seneca County’s hourly rate was ranked about 64th in the state. Also in January, 56 of the 88 counties (63.6 percent) had at least a $75 per hour rate for indigent counsel. Before the 2020 change, the commissioners last increased the rate in 2014.
The board did not make a decision on the request Thursday, but the matter is expected to be discussed again during the commissioners’ next meeting on April 20th.
Additional information on indigent defense hourly rates and reimbursement/county costs:
In other action, the commissioners received bids for the 2023 Chip Seal Project. The bids were as follows:
Allied Construction, of Chillicothe, $625,412.67
Ward Construction, of Leipsic, $629,052.35
Henry W. Bergman, of Genoa, $638,368.92
Unilliance, of Oak Harbor, $ 691,145.98
The bids are to be referred to the Seneca County Engineer for review before moving forward with a contract for the project.
The board also received bids for the 2023 Pavement Marking Project. The bids were as follows:
Griffin Pavement Striping, of Columbus, $88,876.55
Dura Mark, of Aurora, $91,441.49
American Roadway Logistics, of Richfield, $92,450
A&A Safety, of Cleveland, $84,228.66
Also during the session, the commissioners agreed to fund weed eradication spraying at the Seneca County Airport. The spraying is to occur twice, and the total cost is about $4,251.50.
In new business, all resolutions and budget adjustments from the agenda were approved.