Luzerne County DA Salavantis seeks reconsideration of budget cuts

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - jandes@timesleader.com
Salavantis -

Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis has asked county council to reconsider recent 2018 budget cuts in her office, saying she has “grave concerns.”

“We took a major beating this budget cycle,” Salavantis said Friday.

A council majority approved $95,769 in cuts to the district attorney’s proposed budget Nov. 28, reducing her allocation to $4.41 million.

Council is scheduled to adopt the 2018 budget Tuesday.

Salavantis said the major issue is a $30,000 reduction in the examinations/witnesses spending category, which covers forensic experts, drug and ballistics testing, computer extraction and analysis and other expenses to investigate and prosecute criminal cases.

She sought $120,000 for 2018.

Councilman Harry Haas initially proposed a $20,000 cut, for a total earmark of $100,000. That amount is “more than reasonable,” Haas had said, pointing to county records indicating the office spent approximately $80,000 in examinations and witnesses in 2016 and $89,134 this year through October.

Ultimately approved was Council Vice Chairman Tim McGinley’s revised proposal to further reduce the earmark to $90,000, on the condition that $15,000 of the $30,000 reduction be placed in reserve in case the office needs it. Council must vote on requests to spend reserve funds.

But Salavantis said Friday her office spent $127,311 on examinations and witnesses this year to date when subsequent expenses were factored in. More payments are expected through Dec. 31 because three criminal trials are scheduled to begin Jan. 8, she said.

Her request for $120,000 next year was a reduction from the $145,000 allocation in 2017 because she is fiscally responsible, she told council in an email this week.

Salavantis said she does not inflate her budget request and submits conservative estimates based on experience and cases likely to be handled by her office.

“I do this knowing the real costs associated with taking these cases to court and making sure we are doing everything in our power to keep our residents safe,” her email stated.

Council members publicly acknowledged her communication during this week’s budget work session but did not discuss any planned alterations.

Council members have embraced the option of placing money in reserve to cut back on departments transferring available funds to cover overages in other areas.

Publicly requesting reserve funds is not feasible for the District Attorney’s Office because it can’t properly justify proposed expenses due to the confidentiality of pending investigations and prosecutions, Salavantis said.

She said she is frugal and would not spend any allocation without cause.

If council’s cuts remain Tuesday, the District Attorney’s Office will receive $65,518 more overall compared to this year’s $4.34 million allocation. The office’s budget was $5.4 million in 2016.

Salavantis had wanted five new assistant district attorney positions, citing rising caseloads and staff cuts in recent years. Instead, the administration requested two new assistant DA positions at $43,000 each and a third part-time assistant DA job at $30,000, with benefits budgeted at around $12,000 each. Council authorized one full-timer and one part-timer.

”Although I disagree with eliminating one of the three assistant district attorney positions I requested based on the additional work my office has endured over the years, I understand your fiscal responsibly and the tough decisions you must make,” Salavantis wrote in her email to council.

While stressing she appreciates the two new positions, Salavantis said Friday she constantly fields public requests for additional assistance that cannot be provided with her office’s limited resources.

“The number one concern in the county is crime,” she said.

Salavantis
https://www.psdispatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/web1_salavantis_ebmeeting.jpgSalavantis

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

jandes@timesleader.com

IF YOU GO

Luzerne County Council will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the county courthouse on River Street in Wilkes-Barre.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.