Passage of the state budget could mean good news for Union County.
Ohio legislators passed the state budget bill earlier this month and included in the legislation were additional resources for indigent defense reimbursement.
Gov. Mike DeWine’s budget included an additional $60 million a year in reimbursement costs statewide and legislators added an additional $35 million to the bill.
Assuming financial conditions remain constant, officials say that should nearly reimburse Union County in full.
“This will help offset recent losses in county funding from the Medicaid Managed Care sales tax elimination, sales tax exemptions on products like prescription eyewear and reductions in the local government fund,” said Commissioner Christiane Schmenk.
Perry Parsons, public defender and head of the county’s criminal defense lawyers, said the reimbursement has been lower than what is listed in the code and has stayed that way for years.
“Our current code says the state has to reimburse around 50%,” said Parsons. “Since 1998, it has floated around 40% to the mid-40s, which leaves the difference to be made up at the local level.”
With the passage of the new budget, reimbursement to the county could go up to 70% and even as high as 90% in the next year, Parsons said. Those changes will kick in starting in October.
He added that his contract budget for this year is for $410,000 and that goes to contracts he has with 11 defense attorneys.
The county pays the money to the attorneys and contracts go to the state each month for reimbursement.
The Union County public defense system is different than the majority of Ohio counties in that it has a nonprofit organization that connects with the county. Attorneys contracted for public defense are not technically county officials.
“The commissioners have always been good about recognizing the need for this and willing to give to defense,” Parsons said. As an attorney, he covers all aspects of the court system but uses different attorneys for different cases.
“I have attorneys that contract with the county and get paid based on what they do,” Parsons said. “And not all of them do everything. Some do Common Pleas, some Municipal Court, some juvenile, etc.”
It typically costs $34,000 a month for defense and if the county gets the 90% reimbursement, it could mean only $3,400 in costs to the county.
He said this money is currently for the rest of 2019 and 2020 and that the county has yet to see what the outcome will be in 2021 and beyond.
“The county has always gotten money back, it has just been less,” Parsons said. “This likely won’t affect the attorneys themselves, but overall, this is good for the county.”
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