Prosecutors may be paid with sheriff's budget - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Prosecutors may be paid with sheriff's budget

March 6, 2006

Albany -- The Dougherty County Sheriff offers to help pay for District Attorney staffers who prosecute child abusers. Sheriff Jamil Saba says he has some unused money in his budget that he'll hand over to help the D. A. pay his staffers.

District Attorney Ken Hodges has been searching desperately for ways to pay for the child felony prosecution team since Open Arms Incorporated unexpectedly stop paying for the three positions.

Open Arms, a child advocacy agency, says it just can't afford to pay the team because it lost state funding after an investigation found some employees weren't properly credentialed.

Monday, the sheriff came to rescue the prosecution team. District Attorney Ken Hodges was back before county commissioners Monday to ask them to allow the Sheriff to transfer about $50,000 from his budget to the D. A.'s office to pay for two members of the Child Felony prosecution team.

"I have two very talented professionals in my office that I'm concerned about. They have to make a mortgage, they have to eat," Hodges said.

Sheriff Jamil Saba is helping out because he is under budget this year. The unused money will roll back into the county's coffers, if it's not used to pay the D. A. staffers. "We've got to have this type criminal action against these people," said Sheriff Saba. "And that's all there is to it."

Hodges says the prosecution team reduces jail costs by moving criminals, and their cases, through the court system faster. "So the jail population can decrease rather than increase. Of course the sheriff wouldn't rather house more people, he wants to move them more efficiently," said Hodges.

County commissioners agreed to consider the transfer. And Hodges said he hopes they will work the two positions into the D. A.'s regular budget in July, when a new fiscal year begins. "It going to be a big request because it's approximately $120,000 to $130,000 a year to operate this program," Hodges said.

Hodges already placed a third team member, a secretary, into an open position in his office. Three weeks ago, Open Arms broke its contract with the County to pay the prosecution team until December 2006. The agency says it can't afford the cost anymore because it's lost state funding. But the County is still waiting on financial reports from the non-profit agencies to make sure that's true.

Open Arms Attorney W. T. Gamble III says the agency is preparing an audit now. "We want it to be as technically legal as possible. We want it to be a full disclosure and an audit guarantees that."

But it could be weeks before the county receives that financial report. County attorney Spencer Lee says they will consider suing Open Arms if they find the agency does have the money to pay the team and fulfill its contract. But for now, it looks like a child abuse prosecutor, investigator and secretary will get to keep their jobs at least until this summer.

The county's finance committee plans to meet this week to consider transferring the money form the sheriff's office to the D. A. Ken Hodges said he can pay the team members for about 20 more days.

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