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County Council narrowly OKs extra public-defender money

A move to assist Allen Superior Court with nearly $200,000 needed for public defenders, guardian ad litems, translators and psychiatric consultations for defendants was nearly defeated today.

Three of seven Allen County Council members voted against the measure, including Robert Armstrong and Roy Buskirk, both R-at large, and Darren Vogt, R-3rd.

Vogt said he was troubled by the fact that the department budgeted $467,000 for public defenders in 2012, with similar figures for 2010 and 2011, while only $357,000 was budgeted this year.

The same was true for guardian ad litems, Vogt said. Approximately $160,000 was budgeted for each of the last three years with $100,000 set aside for this year.

Vogt cautioned against making significant cuts in the annual budget only to come back later in the year and request more money.

The department does the best with what monies are allotted to it, said Jerry Noble, court executive, adding they planned to appeal their budget for 2014. The council has approved a budget of $5.5 million, but the court has asked for an increase of more than $300,000 to cover estimated expenses next year.

Budget appeals will take place in September.

Vogt asked what more the department could do to cut expenses and questioned why it could not cover the additional costs with user fees.

The court is limited on accessing user fees, Allen Superior >Judge Fran Gull said.

“Per state statute, fees can only be used to supplement the program,” Gull said, “and we are doing that.”

Fees aren’t always a given, she said.

“We are not dealing with the rich,” Gull said. “They are an indigent population and not all can pay the fees.”

In other business, the council approved four tax abatements for Vera Bradley. The company is expanding and consolidating buildings. The abatement will save the company about $2 million in property taxes during a 10-year period. Vera Bradley officials have pledged to give 10 percent of the savings back to the county.

For more on this story, see Friday’s print edition of The Journal Gazette or visit after 3 a.m. Friday.