FREMONT - Sandusky County's juvenile and probate judge has reduced the amount of additional funding he's seeking this year from the county commissioners and expressed his willingness to negotiate an end to the budget standoff.
In a letter delivered to the commissioners' office late Friday, Judge Brad Culbert said his courts and the county's juvenile detention center need an extra $86,196 for "proper operation," down from the $109,788 he requested last month.
In an interview yesterday, the judge said most of the reduction in his budget request reflects the fact that he has not replaced his former administrative assistant, Maureen Townsley, who was promoted this spring to court administrator.
The judge asked commissioners Dan Liskai, Brad Smith, and Terry Thatcher to respond to his request for mediation by July 26. While expressing a willingness to work toward a settlement, Judge Culbert said he needs to be able to pay court clerks, juvenile detention officers, and other employees higher wages to reduce turnover.
For instance, he noted, the juvenile detention center has replaced 16 of 23 detention officers - including three terminations - since opening in November, 2003, "a staggering 70 percent attrition rate, due primarily to inadequate wages."
Along with his letter, Judge Culbert submitted a series of specific funding requests, asking the commissioners to say whether they would be willing to fund raises for those positions, in what amounts, and over what time period.
"The staff needs to be paid what's fair and reasonable, given what their responsibilities are," the judge said yesterday in an interview. "And I don't know of any department that has a more important responsibility than juvenile or probate court."
One of the judge's requests is that the 20 current detention officers receive an hourly pay raise from $10 to $10.33.
The judge said he wants his staff members who do the same work as county employees in other departments to be paid the same amount. "When deputy clerks in the clerk of courts' office are starting out at $1,600 [a year] more than deputy clerks in my courts, the commissioners' position on not paying the cost-of-living adjustment I've asked for is totally indefensible," he said.
Mr. Smith said he wants to reach a deal with the judge but is troubled by the idea of granting raises to employees who already received the same 3.25 percent increase given to all of the county's nonunion employees.
"All the other employees are clearly watching to see how this is resolved," he said.
Mr. Liskai, the commissioners' president, said the county had to spend $66,000 in legal fees earlier this year stemming from a battle with Judge Culbert over office space in the courthouse.
"Let's see if we can work it out," Mr. Liskai said.
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