Judge uses authority to set court’s budget

Goslee’s version just $23,000 more than 2017 expenditures

lady justice

Lady Justice statue on the Logan County Courthouse. (EXAMINER PHOTO | JOEL E. MAST)

No one can remember the last time a sitting Logan County Common Pleas judge issued an order setting an annual budget for the courts.

But this year Judge William T. Goslee broke with past practices and filed a $658,756 general fund budget rather than accept the $368,420 set aside by the Logan County Commissioners in the county’s 2018 appropriation budget.

However, when compared to last year’s actual expenditures, the judge’s budget is just $23,000 more.

It boils down to a separation of powers, the judge said, and he has been advised by his judicial mentors that ordering budgets is the proper way to run the courts.

It also is necessary to address the burgeoning caseloads and burdens from “the opioid epidemic” on the adult recovery court.

His budget includes $230,000 for indigent counsel costs and does not use any of the court’s $100,000 special projects fund for salaries and benefits.

The commissioners’s version spent $60,950 from the special projects on salaries and benefits for a magistrate and provide nothing from the general fund for indigent council.

Judge Goslee’s order establishes general fund salaries and benefits at $371,400 while the commissioners hoped to spend $270,705 from the general fund.

The judge noted he has been up front with the commissioners about his plans and that there is “no animosity” between the courts and the commissioners.

“I’m telling them what the court needs and they can appeal it” if they feel he went too far, the judge said.

Commissioners John Bayliss, Dustin Wickersham and Joe Antram said in a joint release they “intend to comply with Judge Goslee’s court order and will continue to monitor revenue throughout the year.”

They noted the commissioners have increased the court’s budget by 32 percent in the past six years and defended the practice of not appropriating money for indigent counsel, choosing instead to use supplemental appropriations throughout the year to cover the costs.

Their appropriation budget for 2017 was an 11 percent increase over 2017, the commissioners said.

His order leaves the commissioners with two options: appeal it to the Third District Court of Appeals; or comply.

If general fund revenues come in at or in excess of projections, compliance will have not adverse affect on the budget. Otherwise, the commissioners may have to pull money from other general fund operations or raise taxes to increase revenue to meet the order.

Judge Goslee noted in his order that the county has a general fund carryover of more than $4 million.

He also expects increased caseloads for his staff in the coming year.

“Based on increased revenues in 2017 and as expected in 2018,” the judge wrote, “these appropriations are deemed reasonable by the Court (sic) and not considered a burden on other governmental functions.”

As criminal caseloads increased from 150 a year in 2010 to around 400 in 2017, Judge Goslee added a staff position to prepare entries rather than dump the chore on the Logan County Prosecutor’s Office, which is stretched handling its case preparations.

He also has changed the responsibilities of Adult Recovery Court Probation Officer James Pleasant to include bond compliance duties, giving the court a better insight into defendants prior to sentencing.

Judge Goslee also is exploring the benefits of creating new positions within the recovery court to provide counseling and group therapy.

Currently, the court uses Consolidated Care Inc., but that agency is overwhelmed by its cases and other commitments. Therefore, the recovery court participants are not able to receive timely evaluations, monitoring and counsel, the order said.

As for the special projects fund, Judge Goslee intends to set aside more than $50,000 to address any technology needs for the new courtroom in the Logan County Courthouse, which is in the midst of an ongoing renovation.

He said the commissioners have not set aside money for sound reinforcement, audio recordings, computers for counsel or video display needs.

“I’m not unmindful of the impact the courts have on the general fund,” Judge Goslee said, adding he doesn’t see it as an extravagant budget.

His indigent council budget is $40,000 less than what was spent last year.

Overall, the budget more closely mirrors what the court spends than the artificially low appropriations set by the commissioners.

In 2016, the court spent $517,033 followed by $635,501 in 2017.

Auditor Michael E. Yoder said he will make sure that he follows the court order, and that means its appropriations can only be spent as set by Judge Goslee.

Any shifting of money from one budget line to another will have to be accompanied by another court order, he said.