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The Sun-Times - Heber Springs, AR
  • Public defender's budget comes under scrutiny

  • “We stopped paying for rent and utilities in April, yet her bills are still being paid,” Justice of the Peace Brent Foust said. “She is using money from the indigent fund to pay for rent and utilities and that money is not appropriated for the way it is being used.”
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  • A budget committee meeting was called to order on August 21 with members of the Stone County Quorum Court and the Stone County Judge to discuss the budget for the Public Defender.
    The Sixteenth Judicial District Public Defender covers five counties, Cleburne, Stone, Independence, Fulton, and Izard. The Public Defender maintains an office in Heber Springs and three counties, Cleburne, Stone, and Independence pay part of the office, utility, and supply expenses.
    During the 2012 budget meetings, the budget committee had some difficulties getting the public defender to submit a budget in a timely manner so that the 2012 budget could be approved. The committee ended up taking the 2011 budget and adjusting it to come up with a 2012 budget. In doing so, they noticed that by moving the public defender’s office to the Judge Dill Office Complex, they could better budget for office expenses. The budget committee brought a motion to the Quorum Court and the Justices of the Peace voted to allot only three months worth of office expenses, such as rent and utilities, to the public defender’s current office with the intent to move the office to the office complex by April 1.
    During the budget committee on August 21, it was noted that the public defender still held the original office space and that money from other line items on their budget was going toward rent and utilities.
    It was also brought to the Quorum Court’s attention that the public defender’s budget for this year was close to depletion. And they learned that Stone County’s and Independence County’s budgets were already maxed out.
    According to the law, there are gray areas on what is expected of the counties to pay. However, it states that the county has to supply or pay rent on a suitable place to work. They also have to pay for utilities and supplies.
    “We stopped paying for rent and utilities in April, yet her bills are still being paid,” Justice of the Peace Brent Foust said. “She is using money from the indigent fund to pay for rent and utilities and that money is not appropriated for the way it is being used.”
    According to Cleburne County’s attorney, Holly Meyer, the county judge has the authority to reject claims submitted by the public defender. “She has the right to appeal those claims, but you have the right to reject them,” Meyer said.
    According to Judge Hunt, Stone and Independence Counties are going through the same problem, a proper budget is not submitted each year and monetary claims are submitted and expected to be paid. Though the state is supposed to supply the public defender’s salary, the salary of a secretary, and the salary of all other help, the public defender still files claims for salaries for contract workers. Also some of the claims for supplies are also being disputed.
    Page 2 of 2 - The Quorum Court decided the best plan of action was to give Judge Hunt the right to deny payment for items that are not specifically in the budget. She is only authorized to pay for general office supplies, telephone and telegraph, postage, travel, machinery and equipment, and dues and memberships. All other items submitted for payment are to be rejected.
    The Justices feel they have an adequate office space already picked for the public defender and will not pay rent or utilities on any other space. The Justices want to get the public defender in the office space so they would have a set rate for rent, utilities, supplies, and equipment and would know where tax payer money is going. The goal between Stone and Cleburne is to set Cleburne as the facilitator so Stone County would have a set rate for their part of the expenses for the public defender and would pay Cleburne County. The two counties are hoping to get Independence County to agree to the same terms so that there can be a district wide budget for all counties involved.

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