Alma City Council likely will take up two requests for financial contributions made during its Nov. 8 study session when it works on the 2018 budget in December.
Crawford County Public Defender Ryan Norris issued a proposal to the City of Alma to contribute $25,000 toward the salary and benefits of a new defense attorney who would be dedicated to processing municipal cases.
Norris said the purpose of trying to hire a new defense attorney specifically for municipal cases “is to reduce the amount of unnecessary costs to house inmates charged with misdemeanors in district court.”
According to Norris, from the time of the jail’s opening in January through the end of June, the total calculated cost to Alma for housing inmates was $33,200.
Norris wants to create a full-time defense attorney position paid for jointly by the named cities devoted to handling specific issues that are a problem for cities, and the cities would recoup their costs for the attorney by seeing a significant decrease in jail fees, he said.
Since the 300-bed Crawford County Detention Center opened in January, both the county and its cities have seen a significant increase in the number of offenders being arrested and jailed on misdemeanor warrants.
The defender’s office does not have enough staff to dedicate a person solely to processing municipal cases, Norris said, and cities are charged $30 per day per inmate to house offenders in the county jail.
Because the former county jail was too small to house offenders charged with misdemeanor crimes, most were released on signature bonds and the cities saw no costs for housing.
Alma Police Chief Russell White objected to the proposal.
“To me, it appears we’d be solving someone else’s problem at our own cost,” White said.
White told the council the city was already recouping some of their current jail costs through fine collection, and he felt there are other ways to resolve the issue - such as a change in the district judge’s sentencing model - that would not cost the city.
Norris guaranteed the council that the city would make back its $25,000 if they decided to contribute to a new defense attorney.
White asked council members to look at the upcoming 2018 budget before committing to Norris’ proposal.
Norris already has asked Van Buren to contribute $40,000 to the proposal, which Van Buren City Council has said it will support. The City of Mulberry has pledged $1,000, and Norris also plans to ask for a contribution from Kibler, he said.
Also asking for a contribution from the city was Elaina Damante, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of the Alma Area.
Damante spoke to council members about the increase in child membership at the area club, noting that the club has a correlating increase in financial need.
Operating costs for the club last year were about $320,000. This year Damante expects the costs to be $350,000, an increase of $30,000.
Alma’s club relies on donations and grants for most of its financial welfare.
Damante told council members that cities often contract with local clubs to provide a specific amount of financial support each year, something Alma also had done in past years but no longer.
“There was a time when you did support the club,” Damante said.
When asked how much Damante would like the city to contribute, she said that $12,000 to $15,000 would appropriate.
Council members told Damante they would consider her request and notify her of their response at a later date.
Alma City Council’s next meeting will be Thursday night at 7 p.m. at the city annex.