Whitesburg KY
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Local prosecutor faces cuts

Prosecutors in Kentucky say a possible four-percent budget cut in state funding could lead to furloughs or layoffs.

The state’s Prosecutors Advisory Council voted last week to give elected prosecutors the option of cutting staff salaries by 14 to 16 percent, giving one-week furloughs, or laying off workers. The proposal was submitted to Gov. Steve Beshear on Dec. 5.

Letcher Commonwealth’s Attorney Edison Banks said laying off workers is his absolute last option because those positions would be permanently eliminated.

“If an employee takes unemployment, quits because of all of the cuts, or retires, their position is permanently eliminated,” said Banks. “I can’t replace any of my staff who say enough is enough, I quit.”

Banks said he doesn’t want to decrease his employees’ salaries any more than has already taken place. Banks said that on June 1 each employee was cut four percent from their salary through April 30 and were denied the customary pay raise of three to five percent. At the same time his employees received an increase in their health insurance premiums, Banks said.

“Because the instant additional cut must be four percent of the total budget implemented in four months, this translates into an actual 12 percent that must be taken from the employees,” said Banks. “I am locked in on rent, equipment leases, phone, electric, etc., none of which can be cut into at this point.”

Banks said with the previous cuts and lack of any pay raise for the cost of living, the cut would equal to approximately 25 percent less pay per employee than they made last year.

“Since none of my employees make more than $25,000, the cuts to them are quite drastic and in some cases could qualify them to receive food stamps,” said Banks. “This too will cost the state more money.”

Banks is considering three options before resulting to a furlough, which is an unpaid leave of absence. He said he will ask the Letcher Fiscal Court if it can give any funding as sistance and will use all forfeiture money available to his office, between $3,000 to $5,000 a year.

Banks is also asking attorneys to supply compact discs and copy paper to his office when his employees make copies for attorneys for court cases.

“The directive to seek grants, assistance from local government or asset forfeiture is wishful thinking,” said Banks. “The small amount of asset forfeiture that I receive will not cover salaries, and if applied will mean no money for basic supplies such as the Internet, printer ink, etc. for which it is now used.”

Banks said if his idea of asking the fiscal court for help, using forfeiture money and conserving office supplies doesn’t solve his budget crisis, then he would have to implement a furlough of up to three weeks.

“The governor has said the furloughs may not be staggered, meaning every employee must be ordered off without pay,” said Banks.

During the furlough, Banks would be the only one in the office and in court.

“Court will still be going on,” said Banks. “I would have to be doing everything from answering phones, meeting with victims to opening mail,” said Banks. “When they do come back my staff will be overwhelmed because stuff will pile up.”

Banks said he didn’t know how he could handle a trial without his support staff and is concerned about how he would handle motion hours in District and Circuit courts. Both take place on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month. Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Kevin R. Mullins now does District Court while Banks handles the motion hour in Circuit Court.

“I’d be doing whatever I could but I couldn’t be in both courts at once,” said Banks.

The Commonwealth’s Attorney has a part-time assistant, a full-time secretary, a part-time secretary and a full-time victims’ advocate.

Felicia Wright, the victims’ advocate in the commonwealth’s attorney’s office, said she is the link between victims of felony crimes and the commonwealth’s attorney’s office.

Wright explains the criminal process to victims. She also informs them of any updates in their cases or if any appeals have been filed. Wright notifies victims of upcoming court dates. If needed, she also helps victims receive counseling, housing, or transportation.

“One week may not seem like a long time, but it could mean that someone may not get notified of a court date and their case be amended or worse, dismissed,” said Wright. “I want people to be active in their cases. It really impends the process if our office is closed and I can’t be here to follow through with my end.”

Wright worries how a possible furlough would affect crime victims.

“It’s hard enough contacting everyone I can’t imagine how they will be affected if we have to be off a week,” said Wright. “Not to mention the economic strain it will have on us personally.”

Kristi Skeens, the full-time secretary at the commonwealth’s attorney’s office, helps prepare for upcoming jury trials including subpoenaing witnesses and helping with the Letcher County Grand Jury. Part of her job is to type motions and responses to motions as well as handle other paperwork.

“If we have to shut the office down for furlough we are going to get extremely backed up with our caseload,” said Skeens. “Cases will not be heard and ultimately will be dismissed.”

Skeens said crime is not going to stop during a furlough.

“What kind of message are we sending to our citizens when we decide that the best place to cut the budget is the office that helps defend their public safety?” asked Skeens.

Banks said 133 felony indictments were returned in Letcher County in 1992, compared to 269 indictments in 2008.

Banks said there were 282 felony cases filed in district court in 1992, compared to 332 filed in 2008.

“Our numbers have gone up while our budget has remained the same,” said Banks.

Kentucky is facing a budget shortfall of more than $456 million in the fiscal year that ends June 30. Beshear has asked state agencies and public universities to report back to him the ramifications of a 4-percent slash in state funding.

Banks has until December 19 to develop a form detailing how he is going to address the budget cut.

Compiled from Mountain Eagle and Associated Press reports.

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