By Alex Bridges
WOODSTOCK -- Shenandoah County's chief prosecutor says her office needs someone to help crime victims on a full-time basis.
But Commonwealth's Attorney Amanda Wiseley may need to wait another year to expand the victim-witness director's role. Like several county department leaders, Wiseley may see her request for more money go unfilled in next year's fiscal budget.
The prosecutor had asked the county to increase the victim-witness director's salary from $22,074 to $42,332, or 91.8 percent, to allow the coordinator to work full time.
County Administrator Mary T. Price's presented her spending recommendations to the Board of Supervisors. Even though Price eliminated more than $1 million in spending requests in her recommendations, the county still faces a $1.8 million gap the board must fill either by make additional cuts or raising tax rates.
Price has not recommended the budget include Wiseley's request to expand the victim-witness coordinator post from part-time to full-time. At the same time, Price is recommending a 4 percent increase in Wiseley's office budget. Wiseley asked for $519,724, which represented an increase of 4.7 percent over her current budget.
Earlier this week Wiseley and several other department leaders pitched their requests to the Board of Supervisors. As Wiseley explained, Laura Dawson works as a part-time, victim witness coordinator under the prosecutor's office. Dawson's position is funded through a grant. Dawson has requested funding to make the position full-time. Wiseley said Dawson currently works approximately 20 hours a week.
Wiseley's office presented 808 indictments to grand juries in 2012 and 1,240 in 2013, she explained. The county has experienced an increasing number of crimes that involve victims, such as home invasions and robberies. The coordinator works with adults as well as minors as cases go through the criminal justice system.
Wiseley cited a recent case of involuntary manslaughter alleged to have occurred near Strasburg.
"She coordinates with the victim's families in order to make sure any funding they're eligible to receive through the criminal injuries fund they receive," Wiseley said. "Those are things that I can't and, frankly, don't have the time to and no one in my office does."
The director can set up counseling services for child victims of crimes.
"She's really our voice to the victim," Wiseley said. "Oftentimes, after a case is over, a defendant goes to jail, she makes sure that they're notified, to be in the system for when that person is released so that they're aware."
In addition to the "substantial" increase in crime, Wiseley noted her office is prosecuting two high-profile cases -- the deaths last year of a 20-month-old child and an elderly woman. Her office is prosecuting the infant death as a capital murder case. Wiseley said she expects her office to need to spend more time preparing the case in the months leading up to the trial next year. However, the coordinator currently works only 2 ½ days a week
"With my victim-witness coordinator only being part time, she's not going to be available to coordinate with victims, witnesses, the victim's families," Wiseley said.
Some of the other departmental requests recommended in the administrator's budget:
- Financial administration and technology -- An increase in overall expenses from $279,454 to $307,213, or 9.9 percent.
- County administration -- A decrease in spending from $401,967 to $394,821, or 1.8 percent.
- County attorney -- A decrease in spending from $100,000 to $72,000 or 28 percent
- Treasurer -- An increase in overall spending from $445,708 to $450,446, or 0.8 percent; no new employees.
- Commissioner of the revenue -- A decrease in overall spending from $451,392 to $443,866, or 1.7 percent. Commissioner Kathy Black had asked for an increase in spending to $480,371. Black said she lost two, long-term employees last year and replaced them with new workers at a lower cost.
- Geographic Information Systems coordinator -- An increase from $99,437 to $100,386, or 1 percent
- General registrar -- The general registrar had requested an increase in funding from $126,510 to $155,791, or 23.1 percent, to restore the part-time assistant position to fill time. The administrator recommended no increase.
- Courts -- An increase from $599,795 to $651,111, or 8.6 percent. The Sheriff's Office had requested $744,071, or a 24.1 percent increase in funding for the courts.
- Parks and recreation -- Requested an overall funding increase from $699,330 to $730,731, or 4.5 percent; would receive an increase of 4 percent
- Planning and zoning -- A decrease in overall funding from $367,768 to $364,687, or 0.8 percent
- Tourism -- A decrease in overall funding from $184,790 to $169,937, or 8 percent; had requested a 1.8 percent increase in funding.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org