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Erie County might seek tax to fund new judge

SANDUSKY - The Erie County commissioners are expected to decide next week whether to seek a 0.5 percent income tax boost that would pay for a fourth judge and other county projects.

The commissioners discussed the idea yesterday during a meeting that included their annual reorganization. Thomas Ferrell, Jr., the panel's lone Democrat, was elected board president for 2002, while Nancy McKeen, who was president last year, was chosen vice president.

Afterward, Mrs. McKeen said the county needs additional revenue for construction of a juvenile detention center, to bolster the sheriff's road patrols, and to cope with rising health care costs.

“We're not thrilled with even having to do this ... but with the economy down, our services are needed more than ever,” she said. “This is up to the people. If the people want this tax implemented, they'll let us know.”

The commissioners will meet next on Jan. 24, and Mrs. McKeen said the panel must decide on the tax then in order to schedule two required public hearings before the Feb. 21 filing deadline for the May 7 primary.

Of that amount, she estimated about $500,000 would go to pay for a fourth judge. Erie County has a common pleas judge, Ann Maschari; a domestic relations judge, Robert DeLamatre, and a probate judge, Beverly McGookey.

A fourth judgeship, if established, would be for criminal and civil cases in common pleas court.

The Erie County Bar Association has pushed for several years to get the county to add a second common pleas judge.

“They have over 1,000 new cases every year filed on the third floor,” said Dan Brady, president of the bar association. “That is impossible. It's a terrible problem. It's substantial.”

He estimated that the number of indictments a year has quadrupled since he began practicing law in 1974.

“We've gone from probably less than 200 indictments a year, and the last count, when I checked, was 800,” Mr. Brady said. “We have one common pleas judge that's overwhelmed by the number of criminal and civil cases.”

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