Probation fees not going to county coffer?

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Washington County commissioners, in the midst of budget preparations for 2013, have been counting on about $235,000 collected through the clerk of courts office from adults who are on probation.


But for next year’s budget, instead of six figures, the revenue line item from probation services reads “zero.”


“That money from adult probation is supposed to offset the expenses of running that department,” said Commission Chairman Larry Maggi at Wednesday’s commissioners’ agenda meeting.


He questioned county Finance Director Roger Metcalfe about the court’s accumulation of money collected from probation clients, learning the total account contains $1.1 million.


Earlier this year, Metcalfe requested the allocation for the adult probation department be released. County taxpayers annually foot a bill for the operation of the courts that totals between $8 million and $9 million. The county’s preliminary spending plan for next year totals $71 million, based on a property tax levy of 24.9 mills.


The preliminary budget contains a $5 million deficit attributed to state and federal cutbacks, so the $235,000 equals about 4.7 percent of the total deficit.


On the other hand, Washington County received its first-ever impact fee from unconventional gas wells tapping the Marcellus Shale formation. The $4,430,257 check, signed by Treasurer Rob McCord, does not go directly into the county’s general fund, but it must be set aside for expenditures designated under Act 13.


Deputy Court Administrator Tom Jess, who is in charge of probation services and who attended recent county budget hearings related to the courts, did not return calls for comment Wednesday afternoon.


Although Clerk of Courts Barbara Gibbs’ office collects the fees paid by those who are monitored by probation officers, she said Wednesday, “I don’t want it to look like we’re keeping the money, because we’re not.


“The county’s part of it, we were directed to remit monthly to the court administrator, and I think they established a fund. I don’t know how it’s distributed, but it’s been like that since the 1990s.”


Gibbs said collection of fees from adults who are serving probation are projected to be up $75,000 from last year.


In another matter related to the courthouse, Purchasing Director Randy Vankirk asked the commissioners to approve Thursday a fence on the building’s West Beau Street side that will cost $6,550 under a contract with Seward Fence Co. of Canonsburg.


The project is weather-dependent, but the fence could be installed as soon as January.


Last month, Vankirk asked the board for permission to determine the cost of other courthouse security features including a card-reader and cameras to monitor and control who has access to judges’ chambers.


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