GREENFIELD — The Hancock County prosecutor’s office will soon have an eighth attorney on staff to help handle the county’s increasing criminal caseload.
The Hancock County Council, by a recent vote of 4-3, narrowly approved the addition of a new deputy prosecutor at a salary of $75,000. Council members Bill Bolander, Jeannine Gray and Jim Shelby voted against funding the position. Voting in favor were Martha Vail, Mary Noe, Kent Fisk and Debbie Bledsoe.
The new deputy prosecutor will begin as early as March 1, the council said. The Hancock County Commissioners had unanimously OK’d the need for the position as well.
The county will fund the salary through money available in the general fund.
Prosecutor Brent Eaton said the department’s caseload has “substantially increased,” causing the office to need a new deputy sooner than anticipated. The position wasn’t included in the department’s 2019 budget. The prosecutor’s office currently has seven attorneys, including Eaton. The department last added a deputy prosecutor in 2015, funded through a grant, he said.
The number of misdemeanor and felony cases filed in the county rose by 26 percent from 2016 to 2018, from 1,974 to 2,488, according to county data. Eaton said the office also has seen the number of search warrants more than double: It dealt with 86 warrants in 2016 and 218 in 2018.
Attorneys arrive at work early and stay late, Eaton said, not keeping to a typical schedule. Someone is always on call to process overnight arrests and other emergencies, he added.
Eaton anticipates filling the new position with an employee already on staff.
Shelby, who chairs the county’s budget committee, said he voted against the hire since the county hadn’t budgeted for the position this year. He said when the council hires new employees outside the county’s set plan, “it could knock our budget out of whack.”
“We try to have an orderly budget process, and this is out of order,” Shelby said.
Sometimes the council can make adjustments for emergencies, Shelby said, but he doesn’t think adding a deputy prosecutor is an emergency. He said the council should decide on new hires mainly through the annual budget process each summer, so council members can balance the wishes of all county departments at the same time. Shelby said most departments ask for fund increases each year.
“When we do one like this out of order, you’re not comparing the needs of other departments and not prioritizing in an orderly manner,” Shelby said. “That’s the way I look at it.”