Local Matters

Recent comments

Community Sponsors

Genesee Justice

December 7, 2010 - 1:07pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in budget, Genesee Justice.

Ed Minardo will be out of a job come Jan. 1, but Genesee Justice will carry on.

"It was certainly in my mind, 'Not on my watch,'" Minardo said after learning that County Manager Jay Gsell would recommend to the legislature that Minardo's plan to cut staff hours and eliminate his own job be approved.

And the legislature did just that Monday evening.

"I didn't want to see Genesee Justice and the great history of Judge Call (former Sheriff Doug Call) and Dennis (Wittman, founding GJ director), and the love and caring they put into it, evaporate into a memory."

Minardo said he was also motivated by the firm support Genesee Justice received from the legal community, including defense attorneys, prosecutors and judges.

"That's one of the things that made me fight so hard," Minardo said. "There was an unprecedented outpouring of support from what is supposed to be a formal legal community. The were going outside their comfort zones to express appreciation for the programs we run and the good work of our staff."

With approval of the labor union representing staff at Genesee Justice signing off on the plan to reduce work ours, Gsell was apparently able to find enough cost savings to make Minardo's plan "budget neutral," meaning it won't increase expenses for the county.

When Gsell first presented his draft budget to the legislature, it called for closing Genesee Justice as a division of the Sheriff's Office and moving many of its functions to the probation department.

At a public hearing, members of the legal community and crime victims assisted by Genesee Justice came forward and encouraged the legislature to protect the pioneering restorative justice program.

Next up for Minardo: Put together a non-profit foundation that will raise money to fill the budget gap for full Genesee Justice operations, including reinstating his job as director.

Previous Coverage.

December 6, 2010 - 12:49pm
posted by Billie Owens in Genesee Justice, CSEU, ed minardo.

Genesee County Manager Jay Gsell has told WBTA that the Civil Service Employees Union has agreed to a pay cut for Genesee Justice employees.

He also said that Genesee Justice Director Ed Minardo's proposal is "revenue neutral" and therefore likely to be approved by the county legislature when it meets this afternoon.

Minardo has offered to give up his job as head of GJ to help save the organization.

December 2, 2010 - 3:04pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in CSEA, Genesee Justice.

Debbie Long, president of the union that represents county workers, will meet with county officials tomorrow to get details about a proposal to cut employee hours at Genesee Justice.

The proposal by GJ Director Ed Minardo would eliminate his own job and cut the remaining staff's hours, saving more than $100,000 and cutting the budget gap substantially -- though not completely -- thereby potentially saving the pioneering restorative justice agency.

"We're going in with an open mind," Long said. "We're willing to listen to anything that would save county employee jobs. We want to see the details. We obviously don't want to set a precedent for the whole union."

Legislators heard Minardo's plan for the first time Wednesday night and reacted with caution. There was the issue of whether CSEA would sign off on it, but also the plan needs to be "budget neutral," members said. That means another $12,000 in savings must be found so that there's no increase in county spending.

If the plan is approved -- which the legislature will meet again at 5 p.m., Monday -- Minardo plans to work on forming a foundation that could receive donations in order to cover future funding gaps.

For previous coverage of Genesee Justice, click here.

December 1, 2010 - 7:57pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in budget, Genesee Justice.

legmeet_genjustice.jpg

Genesee County's world-renowned restorative justice agency is spared the budget ax for at least five more days.

A proposal by Genesee Justice Director Ed Minardo to cut staff hours and eliminate his own job deserves further study, all nine legislators agreed during a budget discussion meeting at the Old Courthouse this evening.

While the proposal comes close to eliminating all of the expense necessary to keep the county budget balanced, more savings must be found.

But the big unresolved question is will the county's employee union, the Civil Service Employees Association, allow Genesee Justice staff to cut their own hours.

If CSEA blocks the reduction in hours, Minardo's entire plan to save Genesee Justice could collapse.

"The unions have to agree," said County Manager Jay Gsell. "We tried something similar to this with Job Development Bureau when we lost some grant funding and they said, 'don't come near here.' They don't want to make changes to the work force that create different tiers of employees."

Minardo said he hopes that by giving Genesee Justice at least one more year of life, new funding sources can be found, primarily through the creation of a charitable foundation.

"What I'm saying is take a leap of faith and take me out of the picture for right now," Minardo said. "Let us look and see if in the next year we can find more concrete funding streams. Let us see if the community will support Genesee Justice."

There are a couple of leaders in the justice community who have already offered to serve on a foundation board, Minardo said.

The idea of eliminating Genesee Justice -- a pioneering restorative justice program founded with grant money 30 years ago -- first arose in Gsell's preliminary budget proposal a few weeks ago. Gsell was under orders from the legislature to cut spending and not raise taxes.

The Criminal Justice Advisory Council -- a group of leaders in the local community justice system  that is currently chaired by Minardo -- has been working to find ways to reduce expenses to save the program. The Sheriff's Department offered more cuts to its own budget and according to District Attorney Lawrence Friedman, as of yesterday, the budget gap had been closed by less than $100,000.

Then late today, Minardo presented his proposal to the legislature, closing the budget gap to less than $12,000.

Genesee Justice's programs include handling Release Under Supervision (RUS) for pre-trial offenders, DWI conditional discharges, community service for offenders, advocacy for abused children and victims' assistance.

Under Gsell's initial proposal, the Probation Department would have assumed all of those duties except for child advocacy and victims' assistance. Child advocacy, which is entirely funded by grants, would have remained with the Sheriff's Office.

In Gsell's revised proposal, presented today along with Minardo's proposal, most functions still move to probation, but the District Attorney's Office would take over the victims' assistance program.

Friedman said the district attorney's offices in 38 counties in the state handle victims' assistance, so it's not an unusual thought, yet he's uncomfortable with the idea.

"This is not the ideal solution to say the least," said Friedman in response to a question from Chairwoman Mary Pat Hancock. "I certainly don't want to be in a position of competing with Ed (Minardo) to provide these services.

"This is not something I want to do. My position is that Genesee Justice should remain intact. That is best for the county in the long run and the best way to keep costs down."

Legislators balked at acting on Minardo's proposal with key questions still unanswered. And more than one person said they couldn't support it unless it could be made "budget neutral," meaning Minardo's plan needs to eliminate as much expense as Gsell's proposal.

Hancock expressed both support for the idea and admiration for Minardo's self-sacrifice, but also said she felt obligated to support the directive given to Gsell in the first place.

"The people who have come forth on this particular issue are people I respect," Hancock said. "These are people who don't usually take such strong stands on issues. I know they like us. They're not against us, but they're wondering why we're doing this. They must be right, but strangely I think I'm right."

There is no way, Hancock said, the legislature can consider a tax increase.

"We must shrink the size of government because we're a burden to our constituents," Hancock said. "We can't go back on that now."

Legislator Jay Grasso questioned the validity of the Genesee Justice program based on Minardo's proposal, saying that all of its supporters had argued that the level of service provided by Genesee Justice couldn't be diminished, but it seemed like Minardo's proposal would do just that.

"I'm concerned that the director's position never really was necessary," Grasso said. "At the 11th hour, this is a lot to digest and I wonder why we were even paying for it in the first place."

Friedman immediately jumped back into the conversation and made the point that Minardo's offer to eliminate his own job was being made not because it isn't a necessary role, but it's the only way to continue the good work of Genesse Justice and see if a long-term solution for financial support could be found.

"This is the next best possible solution," Friedman said. "Ed would rather lose his job than see the agency disappear and I respect him for that. I don't think it should be looked on as saying his position is unnecessary."

As for diminishing the services, Friedman said moving Genesee Justice's functions to probation would do just that. In comparing the two plans, he said, the original proposal would result in even fewer man hours devoted to the functions of Genesee Justice than in Minardo's plan to reduce staff hours.

As for cutting hours and needing CSEA's approval to do so, Minardo made the point that while recently employees have been authorized for 37 1/2-hour work weeks, Genesee Justice has also been staffed at times by employees who worked 30 and 35 hours a week.

The discussion ended with Legislator Hollis Upson saying there was a lot to consider in Minardo's proposal, that he certainly respects the recommendation of CJAC, but that before the legislature can approve Minardo's idea it must be proven that it is budget neutral.

"It’s a very unusual move to offer the sacrifice that Ed has offered and I think he deserves for us to give it some real time and consideration."

December 1, 2010 - 4:28pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in budget, Genesee Justice.

County Manager's revised budget proposal moves the duties of Genesee Justice to probation, with victims' advocacy becoming a division of the District Attorney's office.

Genesee Justice Director Ed Minardo has offered a counter proposal that keeps Genesee Justice in place, but reduces hours of staff and Ed himself would resign his position.

Gsell characterized his proposal as a reduction in service, but District Attorney Lawrence Friedman said Ed's proposal is by far preferable to eliminating Genesee Justice.

The legislature is discussing the options now.

UPDATE 5:08 p.m.: Genesee Justice is not dead yet. Ed Minardo's proposal will receive a week's worth of study to find out if some issues can be resolved (more later). The legislature will meet on this topic next Monday at 5:05 p.m.

MORE TK

November 30, 2010 - 2:23pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in budget, Genesee Justice.

After some number crunching yesterday, members of the Criminal Justice Advisory Council concluded that eliminating Genesee Justice will save the county less than $100,000.

Most of Genesee Justice's budget is covered by state and federal grants, but in recent years the county's portion of the operations expense has climbed to $237,000.

To help come up with expense savings to protect Genesee Justice, according to District Attorney Lawrence Friedman -- who's a member of CJAC -- $80,000 in possible cuts have been identified by the Sheriff's Office and Genesee Justice.

That includes a voluntary 6-percent pay cut from the Genesee Justice staff.

"We thought we made a good case (for Genesee Justice at the budget hearing)," Friedman said. "We'd still like to believe (its elimination) is not going to happen."

Thirty years ago, the concepts that built Genesee Justice -- restorative justice and offender accountability -- were novel and not universally embraced by the law enforcement and thenlegal community. Now local criminal justice experts are solidly behind saving Genesee Justice.

"As we've said, this would be like a 30-year step back in history," Friedman said.

He said CJAC members are waiting for the release, sometime today or tomorrow, of County Manager Jay Gsell's revised budget proposal to see just what the cost differential will be.

The costs of moving Genesee Justice functions to probation go beyond just adding three more staff members to the Probation Department, though solid numbers are not immediately available.

Also, it's completely unclear, Friedman said, whether the grants now used to help fund Genesee Justice will follow the programs to probation.

"There were a lot of people at the meeting (Monday)," Friedman said. "Everybody reiterated what they said at the hearing -- that this is a bad idea."

The Legislature will be in conference on the proposed budget at the Old Courthouse at 4 p.m. Wednesday.

November 30, 2010 - 11:57am

The Genesee County Legislature will meet at 4 p.m. Wednesday to discuss the 2011 budget for the final time, with decisions before them that will have consequences for the local economy and civic environment for years to come.

Top on the agenda is what becomes of Genesee Justice.

countybudget03a.jpgCounty Manager Jay Gsell's preliminary budget called for eliminating seven Genesee Justice jobs and creating three new staff positions in the Probation Department, with probation taking over most of the pioneering restorative justice program's functions.

All of the county's top justice system experts -- including District Attorney Lawrence Friedman, Sheriff Gary Maha and Public Defender Gary Horton (inset picture) -- have lobbied to save Genesee Justice.

The experts say Genesee Justice has saved the county millions of dollars because many people who might otherwise be incarcerated are carefully supervised by Genesee Justice. The loss of Genesee Justice could mean that in a few years Genesee County will need to build a new jail at a cost of up to $30 million.

County officials, however, say these are dire economic times and costs need to be cut and taxes can't be raised. The county needs to trim about $7.5 million from its initial spending plan for 2011.

For years, Genesee Justice was funded entirely by grants, but over the years some those grants have dried up and local taxpayers must pick up about $237,000 of the operational costs of Genesee Justice.

Gsell plans to save that money, figuring that probation can assume the key functions of Genesee Justice.

"We know what services Genesee Justice delivers and we know how it is delivered," Gsell said for a previous story. "What we're looking at is how can we deliver that same level of service to the community through the Probation Department."

Julie Smith, probation director, said her department can assume the services and still help keep down the population level of the jail.

For example, Smith said, probation handled the release-under-supervision program for 26 years before handing it off to Genesee Justice in 2006.

Maha warned, however, that in neighboring counties, where there are no programs like Genesee Justice, the counties struggle with their jail populations.

"If the jail population increases, the State Commission of Correction will come down and tell us to do something about our increased population -- like build a new jail or put on an addition," Maha said. "We'll be like our neighbors to our south who had to build a jail addition to address their jail population."

Besides Genesee Justice, the legislature needs to decide what to do with the Soil and Water Conservation District, which is facing a 15-percent expense cut.

The cut, local farm leaders say, could end many vital services Soil and Water provides to farmers, helping keep them in business in a tough economic and regulatory environment.

"(The cut) would be a real detriment to the agriculture industry in Genesee County," said Brad Rodgers, chairman of the Soil and Water board of directors. "Even level funding would hurt us."

Scott Page, president of the Genesee County Farm Bureau, believes keeping Soil and Water is critical to protecting Genesee County's economic base.

"If we hurt ag, we miss an opportunity to move forward," said Page. "The more we build off our agricultural base, the better the local economy will do."

The conference meeting at 4 p.m. Wednesday will not include a public comment period, but the session at the Old Courthouse is open to the public.

Following the conference meeting, the Ways and Means Committee will convene. Final budget amendments will be voted at that time, which are recommendations for the full legislature to consider. The full legislature will vote on the final 2011 county budget Dec. 8.

November 27, 2010 - 1:42pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Genesee Justice.

Ed Minardo, director of Genesee Justice, sent along the following e-mail to help clarify Genesee Justice funding and the budget situation.

We submitted our initial 2011 budget to the County Manager which called for a total appropriation of $697,418.

This appropriation accounted for our salary and fringe benefits for employees, contractual obligations and other expenses for the operation of our offender services, victim services and the Justice for Children Advocacy Center (JFCAC).

Due to the nature of our grants, $41,890 of the appropriation included rent and utilities for our occupancy at 14 W. Main St., a County building. This is used to demonstrate the County’s share of its in-kind contribution to match grant funds, and is not an actual County expenditure.

In 2011, we are due to receive $318,119 in victim service grants through the New York State Office of Victim Services (OVS), New York State Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS) and the National Children’s Alliance (NCA).

These funds exist to provide direct victim services to adults through our Comprehensive Victim Services and to the children and their families served through the JFCAC (281 total victims served). These grants have been consistently awarded to us because of the quality of service delivery to the above noted victims of crime in Genesee County.

We have excellent working relationships with the funding agencies and the dedicated professionals who work in those programs.

The receipt of these grants continues to minimize virtually all expenses to the County for these services. This includes the phenomenal work done by the JFCAC staff, contractual agents and members of the Multi-disciplinary Team to meet the needs of children who are physically and sexually abused in Genesee, Livingston, Wyoming and Orleans counties.

In 2011, we are due to receive $84,969 in offender services grants through the Office of Probation and Correctional Alternatives (OPCA) and the County STOP-DWI Program. The total number of offenders served through Community Service (419), DWI-CD Program (290) and RUS (245) was 954 in 2009. The above funding helps to offset some of our offender services, but ultimately results in the need for County funds.

For example, the Release Under Supervision Program (RUS) has been frequently recognized by Criminal Justice professionals as the critical component in keeping down our jail population. In 2009, we completed 518 bail evaluations for local Courts, which resulted in the placement of 245 defendants under our supervision in the RUS program.

This program is staffed by a full-time, exceptionally capable Case Manager, with back-up by the Assistant Director and Director of Genesee Justice. This is necessary because we provide bail evaluations within 24 hours of an offender’s placement in jail in order to expedite a review of their status for the Court.

The total grant funding for this program in 2009 was $7,700. This results in a County contribution of at least an additional $53,000, when salaries and program expenses are included. This is the reason that the Probation Department dropped this program in 2002. Probation was under no mandate to provide this service by NY State and the County was not recognizing their obligation to support the program, despite the obvious benefits to the County in reduced jail occupation. Here we are again!

To conclude, in 2011, we are scheduled to receive a total of $403,088 in grant funding for both victim and offender services. We had an initial anticipated County contribution of approximately $237,000. We have since made a considerable reduction of that amount; however, the County Manager is advising us that we must find a way to reduce our County share to ZERO for the next budget year.

We have scheduled a meeting of the Criminal Justice Advisory Council (CJAC) on Monday, Nov. 29, to determine if there may be any savings that can be derived from reducing, cutting or making more efficient use of criminal justice resources in order to provide us with the opportunity to remain in existence.

November 26, 2010 - 3:23pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Genesee Justice.

This post is an attempt to gather as many data points as possible related to the issue of Genesee Justice and the county budget.  If you can think of anything that's missing, let me know. Bonus points if you can provide the data.

Genesee Justice was founded in 1981 and by 2006, had received about $6.3 million in grants from government agencies and private foundations.

By the time founding Director Dennis Wittman retired in 2006, 4,959 offenders had performed community service, doing 356,858 hours of unpaid work.

The alternative to jail had also saved county taxpayers, as of 2006, more than $5.9 million because those offenders weren't in jail for the 60,000 days they would have served otherwise.

Jay Gsell's budget message indicates that "Continued female jail population management efforts, particularly in collaboration with Orleans and Wyoming counties, may be the only way to stave off radical State Commission of Correction mandates -- up to and including a new 100 to 120 bed county jail. With a $250,000 per bed construction cost ($24 to $28 million), plus increased staffing, (it) would effectively "blow a hole" in the county budget as 100 percent of these increases are county-only burdens."

At the budget hearing, Sheriff Gary Maha said a new jail would cost about $30 million.

The current jail has a capacity for 87 inmates with a variance to allow for 97 inmates, but can't house females. The annual operating budget is about $3 million.

The Genesee County Jail has revenue from housing inmates from other jurisdictions of about $100,000 per year, of which $30,000 to $35,000 comes from housing federal inmates. 

The county spends about $250,000 per year housing female inmates in other jails.

Livingston County recently completed a $28 million annex to its existing jail, taking the 90-bed facility to 189 beds. Prior to the expansion, Livingston had to place some inmates in Monroe and Steuben counties. The original jail was built in 1983. The annual operational budget is $4.48 million. Debt payment on the new addition is roughly $2 million over 15 years.

Genesee County Probation Department 2010 amended budget -- $1,028,784; proposed 2011 -- $1,354,464, an increase of $325,680

Genesee Justice 2010 amended budget, $678,477; proposed 2011 budget, $173,588, a decrease of $504,889.

Actual apparent cost savings, $179,209.

The total county budget is $140 million.

The total property tax levy is $24,994,063

The current assessment rate per $1,000 of assessed value is $9.82.

In 2007, the assessment rate was $9.98. In 2006, it was $10.25.

The total value of assessed property in Genesee County is $2,544,134,312.

A one penny increase in the levy would generate $254,000 (decimal place error; actual number is $25,400) in new revenue for the county.

A one penny increase in levy would raise the annual tax assessment on an $80,000 home by 80 cents. A dime assessment would be $8.

November 26, 2010 - 12:49am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Genesee Justice.

dennis_wittman.jpg

In the late 1970s, the big issue in Genesee County was, should taxpayers fund the construction of a new jail.

According to former Sheriff Doug Call, now a Stafford town justice, the family court judge of the time, Charles Graney, wrote a letter to the editor that said something like, "You can either be the last county in the nation to build a 90-bed maximum security jail, or you can be the first to try to keep people out of jail by holding offenders accountable."

Call, a former JAG in the Air Force, a former seminarian and an attorney working for the County Attorney's office, would tell anybody who would listen that the criminal justice system was broken. The county didn't need a new jail. It needed to try alternatives to incarceration to limit the jail population and save taxpayers money.

The sheriff at the time wasn't buying it.

"We've tried alternatives to incarceration and they don't work," the sheriff told the County Legislature.

Finally, Call said, people told him to put his money where his mouth is and run for sheriff.

So, he did.

November 18, 2010 - 1:03pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, budget, Genesee Justice.

countybudget03a.jpg

It was a historic moment, Public Defender Gary Horton said.

"This may be the first time you have Judge (Robert) Noonan, (District Attorney Lawrence) Friedman and I all agree on something."

There was nothing but agreement from the two dozen or so speakers who took up the cause of Genesee Justice at the County Legislature's budget hearing Wednesday evening.

judge_noonan.jpgThe budget proposal calls for the elimination of Genesee Justice as a department and moving most of its current functions into the probation department.

The change could save the county $237,000, but several speakers said that Genesee Justice saves the county maybe as much as $1 million a year by helping to keep people out of jail.

Nothing against the Probation Department, many speakers said, but probation officers won't take the same approach in dealing with offenders and victims which Genesee Justice has done successfully for 30 years.

Speakers praised Genesee Justice as a pioneering "restorative justice" program. They characterized probation as a law enforcement agency -- one that takes more of a punitive approach in dealing with offenders.

"Probation officers carry weapons, they make arrests," said Oakfield Justice Thomas Graham. "Genesee Justice is more of a social agency, they handle casework, and they work very hard to help people make it through without sending them back to jail."

countybudg01.jpgAfter the meeting, Julie Smith, director of probation, said she disagrees with that characterization of her department.

"Probation is (also) an alternative to incarceration," Smith said. "There are about 700 offenders on our case load and if it wasn’t for us, they would be in jail.

"We are following offenders," Smith added. "We are checking up on them. We are in their lives."

According to County Manager Jay Gsell, the county budget picture is so dire -- more than 80 percent of the budget is state-mandated expenses -- that drastic measures are needed. The budget contains little that is discretionary and the direction of the legislature was to balance the budget without increasing the tax levy.

"If we were masters of our own fate, that would be a lot easier to do, but we’re not," Gsell said. "We are creatures of state government."

Genesee Justice is a pioneering agency in what is known as "restorative justice." It focuses on the needs of victims and offenders to help bring about some level of reconciliation, and to help offenders re-enter society as productive citizens rather treat offenders in a traditional law-and-order manner.

The local program was started with grants 30 years ago at a time when the concepts of restorative justice were rarely considered by judges or prosecutors. 

As one speaker noted, Genesee Justice has been cited in scholarly articles on restorative justice from around the world.

Among the functions handled by Genesee Justice are: supervising first-time DWI offenders who have been granted a conditional discharge; overseeing work-release programs and community service; helping victims of crime with getting through the judicial process; and receiving restitution payments and completing paperwork, as well as managing the "release-under-supervision" (RUS) program.

 

judge_robert_balbick.jpgGenesee Justice took over RUS from probation 2002. RUS allows courts to release alleged offenders prior to trial who don't qualify for release under their own recognizance but do not necessarily need to be held on bail.

Judges Robert Noonan, Robert Balbick, Thomas Graham, Michael Delplato, as well as Sheriff Gary Maha and District Attorney Lawrence Friedman all expressed concern that switching RUS back to probation would mean fewer alleged offenders would receive RUS status.

"The Genesee Justice program as it has developed is amazing in terms of keeping the jail population down," said Noonan. "I know probation says they can do it and I know they honestly believe they can do it.

"But I believe what you are going to see is a spike in the population at the jail and you are going to wind up paying dollars at the far end after eliminating a very, very important program."

Balbick said he just doesn't know what will happen if RUS is moved back to probation, and that worries him.

"The RUS program runs well because we have a department that runs it well," Balbick said. "I don’t know what it will be if probation runs it. Maybe they will run it well, but I don’t know. I do know that Genesee Justice runs it well."

jay_gsell.jpgOne speaker suggested it would take $30 million to build a new jail, if needed. Sheriff Maha noted that the current jail was constructed at its present capacity because there was a Genesee Justice program to help keep offenders out of jail.

"If the jail population increases, the State Commission of Correction will come down and tell us to do something about our increased population -- like build a new jail or put on an addition," Maha said. "We'll be like our neighbors to our south who had to build a jail addition to address their jail population."

Smith said that probation handled RUS for 26 years and they can easily take over the program again.

Several speakers said they believe the elimination of Genesee Justice is "a done deal," and that the local justice system community was not consulted first.

The repeated complaint was that only two people -- Gsell and Smith -- supported the plan and were pushing it through without a lot of outside input.

"It appears to me that the only people who are speaking out in favor of this proposal are the ones making the proposal," Friedman said. "They’re the only ones who appear to believe that it’s a good idea. Otherwise, from what I’m hearing, everyone involved in the criminal justice systems, thinks this is a bad idea."

Smith was quick to point out after the meeting that she's not the one who made the proposal.

sheriff_maha.jpg“This is at the direction of the legislature," Smith said. "The legislature asked me to look at. It’s nothing that I sought out. There’s a lot of misinformation out there (saying) that I sought to do this, but the legislature asked us to do this and we’ll do our best to step up to the plate."

Gsell said it certainly isn't a done deal.

"How can it be? The legislature hasn’t even voted," Gsell said. "This is what we go through every year when we make proposals on the budget. I make a proposal and that becomes what the legislators deal with. That’s where we’re at right now."

The legislators we spoke with after the meeting said they certainly haven't made up their minds and they want to discuss it further with other members of the legislature before making a decision.

Mary Pat Hancock, chairwoman of the legislature, said "we're hearing the concerns and considerations of the people, and we're certainly listening."

"We will consider it carefully," Hancock said. "This is presented as a tentative budget and we don’t pass a budget for another three weeks."

Legislator Jay Grasso noted that he took copious notes during the meeting and he looks forward to sitting down with his fellow legislators to hear what they think.

Most of all, he said, it was a big change from previous public hearings where few people show up and even fewer have anything to say.

"It’s democracy in action," Grasso said. "You should have people here. You should have people questioning what we do. You should have people saying, ‘well, why are you doing this?’ I found it unique and refreshing."

Photos: Top, Gary Horton holding up a button in support of Genesee Justice; County Judge Robert Noonan; Legislature Chairwoman Mary Pat Hancock; City Court Judge Robert Balbick; County Manager Jay Gsell; Sheriff Gary Maha.

countybudg02.jpg

November 1, 2010 - 3:48pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, budget, Genesee Justice.

In an effort to close a significant budget gap, the Genesee County Legislature will be asked to look at eliminating Genesee Justice and moving its services to the County Probation Department.

Genesee Justice provides a variety of services, including supervising accused criminals released from jail, as well as some convicted drunken drivers, and assisting victims of crime.

County Manager Jay Gsell said in the 17 years he's been with the county, Genesee Justice has gone from a program funded entirely by state grants to one that now has $237,000 in unfunded expenses.

The county is a looking for a way to cut that expense in an effort to trim $7.5 million from the proposed 2011 budget.

"We know what services Genesee Justice delivers and we know how it is delivered," Gsell said. "What we're looking at is how can we deliver that same level of service to the community through the probation department."

Ed Minardo, director of Genesee Justice has some concerns about whether the same level of services can be maintained.

He said he's working on an information campaign to help decision-makers understand all that Genesee Justice does and exactly what's involved in delivering the current level of services.

"I'm concerned," Minardo said. "We've been here 30 years. I want to ensure that this is a carefully deliberated decision."

Under the proposal -- which Gsell says is very preliminary -- about seven-and-half positions in Genesee Justice would be eliminated and three positions created in probation.

The Children's Advocacy Center, which employs two people, would remain under the supervision of the Sheriff's Office, which currently oversees Genesee Justice.

Gsell said the change could eliminate administration and overhead costs, but it still needs further study.

Minardo said that in 2009, Genesee Justice supervised 419 people assigned to community service; and 518 people in Genesee Jail were screened for possible release under supervision; and 245 accused criminals were released and supervised by Genesee Justice. 

The number of victims helped by Genesee Justice is not immediately available.

The county budget hearing is at 6 p.m., Nov. 17 in the county courts facility.

Subscribe to The Batavian - Local Matters

Copyright © 2008-2022 The Batavian. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy | Terms of Service
 

blue button

News Break