State Grant Expected To Help Provide Legal Counsel

MAYVILLE — A state grant is set to assist the Chautauqua County Public Defender’s Office in providing legal counsel for those who can’t afford it.

County legislators on the Public Safety Committee authorized acceptance of grant funding from the New York State Office of Indigent Legal Services at Wednesday’s meeting. The three-year grant, which initiated Jan. 1, 2015, runs through Dec. 31. Grant funding totals $539,838.

Ned Barone, public defender, came before committee members to discuss the grant and relay his hopes for more funding next year. Counties and public defenders have long advocated for an increase in state funding for indigent legal counsel. As of now, state grants make up about 20-25 percent of the county Public Defender’s Office.

The state Senate and Assembly passed bills last year that would have eventually shifted 100 percent of indigent legal service expenses to the state. Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed the bill last month, however, as he said it did nothing more than shift costs from county to state taxpayers.

A new proposal to fund indigent legal services has been submitted to the state Legislature for consideration, Barone said.

“It may not be in the same form as the last proposal, that would have been the one we really hoped for, but we’ll get there,” he said. “It will take a little longer than what we had hoped for.”

Barone told legislators his office has handled more felony trials in Chautauqua County Court than any other time in the history of the Public Defender’s Office.

As it stands now, the burden on the office is becoming heavier between increased caseloads, new requirements coming down from the state and no additional funding. Barone told The Post-Journal last month the office handles between 4,000 to 5,000 criminal cases and a year and 1,500 to 2,000 cases in family court.

In other matters, committee members carried resolutions to place hazardous materials and emergency preparedness grant funding into the 2017 budget.

The Chautauqua County Office of Emergency Services was awarded a Regional Partnership Grant totaling $94,000 under the 2016 Hazmat Grant Program.

The grant began in September 2016 and it runs through August 2019. The partnership consists of hazmat teams from Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties and the Seneca Nation of Indians. A total of $33,553 would be place into the budget.

The county is also receiving $15,516 this year under the Hazardous Material Emergency Preparedness Grant Program, which is provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

The grant, administered by the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, will go to develop, improve and implement emergency plans while determining flow patters of hazardous materials.

At Wednesday’s Human Services Committee meeting, legislators approved 2016 budget changes to cover increased juvenile secure detention costs. Valerie Lis, administrator for the Health and Human Services Department, said several children are being sent to facilities like the Erie County Detention Center. Rates charged back to the county have increased over time. Legislators approved to cover the $75,100 overage.

Legislators on the Planning and Economic Development Committee approved to accept $16,945 in grant funding from Empire State Development to market the county’s Overland Trails. Don McCord, deputy director of Planning and Economic Development, told legislators they applied for funding for new trails. Funding was also necessary to effectively market them.

“We recognized the existing trail system is of great value but isn’t marketed well,” he said. “We decided to put in a grant application to work with the Visitors’ Bureau and the Parks Department to put marks on where the trails are. It’s a minimal cost to the county overall.”

All resolutions will go before the full County Legislature at next week’s meeting.

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