August 24, 2019

State's attorney could get additional staff - Daily Leader Extra : Top Stories

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State's attorney could get additional staff

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Posted: Wednesday, August 7, 2019 3:03 pm

The Lake County State's Attorney's office may add a position as a result of the budget discussion which took place at the Lake County Commission meeting on Tuesday morning.

County Auditor Bobbi Janke opened the discussion by telling commissioners the growth was slightly greater than anticipated and said $4,312,923.66 could be levied in taxes. She reviewed earlier changes and indicated the commission still needed to make decisions regarding funding for outside entities.

Before commissioners began this discussion, Shelli Gust, commission administrative officer, indicated disapprobation had been expressed regarding the requests from outside entities. She said county offices were asked to keep requests at or near last year's requests.

"I want to remind the board that county departments were not encouraged to ask for more," she said.

Gust indicated department heads might have submitted different budget requests had they known increases would be viewed favorably. She reported that "they took that request to heart" in crafting their budgets for the next fiscal year.

Commissioners did not immediately respond, but Commission Chairperson Kelli Wollmann returned to Gust's comments in suggesting the commission consider hiring a victim's advocate for the State's Attorney's office. The state's attorney requested the position in the budget for fiscal year 2019, but not for fiscal year 2020.

"You have all these phone calls to let everybody know what's going on. I would like to see that put back on the table," Wollmann said.

"I'm sure [State's Attorney] Wendy [Kloeppner] would be more than willing to visit with you about that," Gust said.

She indicated the state's attorney's office "makes it work" but said more help would be welcome. When Kloeppner arrived later in the meeting for the executive session, she addressed Wollmann's request.

Kloeppner said she, paralegal Jennie Thompson and Gust, who also works as a paralegal in the state's attorney's office, divide up the duties. In explaining what this entails, she reported they must contact victims who opt into the system about any change in a case.

"Sometimes they want to come in and meet with us. It takes a lot of time," Kloeppner said.

She explained that if the DCI (Division of Criminal Investigation) or South Dakota Highway Patrol is involved, their victims' advocates can assist by talking with victims. However, that is not always the case.

"Not every victim opts in, but those with significant losses do," she said.

She said hiring a victim's advocate would be a "stress reliever" for those working in the state's attorney's office, because they "feel bad" if a victim contacts them before they are able to initiate contact.

Gust said the office would like a college-educated individual who would work 15-19 hours per week. She estimated the position, including a computer, would cost the county around $25,000 per year.

The commission approved having Janke work with Gust to get exact numbers for the budget which will be published.

As a result of the budget discussion, many outside entities did see cuts to their requests, though none will receive less than they received in the current fiscal year.

Neither Prairie Village nor the Smith-Zimmermann Museum will see an increase. The Lake County Food Pantry will see the modest increase requested, from $2,592 to $2,676.

Valiant Living was increased from $2,500 to $5,000. Inter-Lakes Community Action Partnership will see an increase from $12,595 to $13,000. The Lake Area Improvement Corporation will see an increase of $5,000.

The Lake County Conservation District will receive an increase of $15,000, the largest increase seen by any of the outside entities. Wollmann pointed out that the county was not required to provide any funding and asked if they had done anything to increase their revenue.

Commissioner Aaron Johnson pointed out that with the emerald ash borer, people will be replacing shelterbelts in coming years and supported "helping them out." He said he would support an increase of $15,000.

Madison Regional Health System will see a $10,000 increase, from $20,000 to $30,000.

Commissioner Dennis Slaughter was a strong advocate for increasing funding for the ambulance. He pointed out the hospital doesn't submit indigency requests, as does Avera McKennan, and frequently gives used ambulances to other emergency responders in the county.

Commissioner Roger Hageman suggested MRHS also seek funding from other entities, such as the City of Madison, rather than soliciting support only from the county.

In closing the budget discussion, Wollmann made reference to a list that Janke provided regarding earlier decisions, which included, among other things, a 3% raise for all employees, adjustments for 27 employees, increasing prisoner meals by $16,000, increasing the judicial budget for court-appointed counsel by $50,000, and increasing the overtime hours for full-time equipment operators for the highway department from 30 hours to 45 hours.

"All those things listed there, I feel good about," Wollmann said.

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