Legal rate hike proposed

Seneca County commissioners discussed raising the rate for indigent counsel at their meeting Tuesday.

Individuals who must go to court and cannot afford counsel can be awarded indigent counsel as paid by the county. Commissioner Fred Zoeller said the rate has stayed the same for more than 12 years and compared to surrounding counties, Seneca County’s fees were low.

He discussed with the four county judges the possibility of raising the rate from $40 an hour outside the courtroom and $50 an hour inside the courtroom to $45 and $55, respectively.

“The judges mentioned that it is becoming increasingly more difficult for them to retain qualified counsel,” he said. “And they understand the importance that this has on the budget.”

The change would raise necessary funding by about $53,000 a year.

“We don’t have a public defender; we have this indigent counsel,” Commissioner Holly Stacy said. The county is required by the Ohio Revised Code to either provide a public defender or the opportunity for indigent counsel.

Board President Jeff Wagner disagreed with the potential raise, saying the fees already were an “adequate amount.”

“There are much more pressing needs,” Wagner said. “If we can take that same money and give 3 percent to every county employee … I think that would be a much better use of county funds.”

County Administrator Stacy Wilson was directed by the board to draft a resolution for the next session.

Sheriff Bill Eckelberry spoke to the board about purchasing new transport vehicles for the Seneca County Sheriff’s Department.

He said the vehicles are used to transport detainees from Cleveland and back, and the price to buy two new vehicles and the additional equipment is $56,000.

Last year, the department generated a revenue of $43,000 with the transports. This year, the department has billed $32,000 to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Eckelberry said the department still is waiting for past months’ ICE revenue and he believes it will exceed expected revenue for the year.

He intends to maintain the newer vehicle for local errands.

“Once we get these two, it will last us for a number of years,” he said.

The board approved the resolutions to appropriate the funds and authorize the purchase of two transport vans.

The board also continued research on the County Services Buildings and possible repair work on the stucco wall. Zoeller said he had been in contact with several contractors and received quotes on the project.

“It’s not as bad,” he said. “They feel that it’s repairable.”

He said a local contractor could assess the entire wall for loose spots, fix the spots and repaint the areas for around $7,450.

Wilson is to contact the contractors and see if they would re-evaluate the quote on repairing the entire wall.

The Board of Elections also met with commissioners to explore expansion options. Due to issues with privacy in early voting and possible compliance issues in the space, the board discussed several options for the elections board.

Stacy is to look into the square footage of the current Board of Election’s building and report back to the board.

The board also opened bids for the CR 20, CR 36 and CR 62 pavement resurfacing project.

The engineer’s estimate was $664,074. The board received bids from M&B Asphalt, Erie Blacktop, Shelly Co. and Gerkin Paving.

The county engineer is to look over the bids and give his recommendation to the board.

Due to the Farm Science Review luncheon Sept. 17, the board its meeting to 10 a.m. Sept. 16.

In other business, the board approved:

A supplemental appropriation of $60,000 for the New Riegel Sewer District Fund.

An authorization allowing the board to enter into a food service agreement with Bridges Community Academy on behalf of the Seneca County Sheriff’s office.

Authorization of an agreement with Lake and Land Excavating LLC for obstruction removal-Newman Parcels at the Seneca County Airport.

Bill vouchers.