Demand on county services continues to rise

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: March 8, 2020 | 12:30 p.m.

Ashcraft’s budget funds new positions to support growing demand

PRINCE GEORGE – As supervisors digest County Administrator Percy Ashcraft’s proposed budget, one of the recurring themes of this and recent budgets is an increase in demand for county services, resulting in some departments requesting additional staffing as part of his proposal for the coming fiscal year.

During his presentation last week, Ashcraft maintained his tradition of providing a snapshot of the county’s department by detailing the overall increases in many county offices’ demands over the prior year, ranging from social services, public safety, to parks and recreation.

Specifically regarding public safety and law enforcement, the county administrator revealed Prince George County Police has seen a 16-percent increase in total arrests. Alongside that figure, there were over 430 general district court felony filings and 116 felony filings in juvenile and domestic relations, up eight and 22 percent respectively.

In addition, there has been noticeable increase in probation-related services through the Riverside Criminal Justice Agency, with a 21 percent bump in placements to probation, 13 percent rise in those referred for drug testing, and a 23 percent increase in referrals to community services, which has also resulted in the number of community service hours being completed rising by 43 percent.

For the second straight year, Ashcraft’s budget also sees increases to the Riverside Regional Jail as the number of inmates from the county being housed at the jail paired with declining jail revenues have necessitated a bump in spending to the tune of $156,900 more than last year, with $2.1 million earmarked to support the jail in his proposed budget.

That figure is based on an inmate per diem of $46 per day, which has also increased for the second straight year. In 2019, the county raised its per diem from $40 to $43.

Many of these numbers should sound familiar to county leaders as supervisors voted to amend their current-year budget to support increased workloads, particularly in law enforcement and prosecution by funding additional positions late last year.

In December, the Prince George Sheriff’s Office was given the go-ahead to move forward with hiring an additional full-time deputy that will aid in addressing the “increased workload and scheduling challenges posed by the Courthouse lower level expansion and the addition of three judges during 2019.”

Since the completion of the new JDR courtroom in the county courthouse’s lower level, the number of court sessions between July and the end of 2019 had increased by 70, or 35 percent when compared to the same time period in 2018. When looking at the numbers, while circuit court sessions remained relatively steady rising from 92 in 2018 to 102 in 2019, the number of general district cases increased from 44 to 87 and JDR cases climbed from 64 to 81 during the same time period, bringing the total number of sessions to 270 in 2019, up from 200 the prior year.

According to the county, the significant increase in sessions and workload “places a strain on current staff and potentially poses a security risk.”

In addition, the commonwealth’s attorney office at that time reported the number of criminal show cause filings and traffic capias filings in the county’s general district court had risen by 11 and 19 percent during the first nine months of 2019, respectively. Felony charge filings rose by less than four percent during the same timeframe.

According to data shared in December, the largest increase in case load came in the area of felony charges against adult offenders in the county’s JDR court with a nearly 40 percent increase in 2019 when compared to the prior year. That increased workload and a change in the general district court’s schedule resulted in Fierro’s office not handling “many cases brought by the Virginia State Police,” specifically “Class 1 and 2 misdemeanor cases brought by state troopers.”

At that time, Fierro also reported her office was “no longer prosecuting driving on a suspended license, no operator’s license, reckless driving (high speeds), and possession of marijuana,” noting, “this has likely led to increased jail time, appointment of defense attorneys, and defendants not being diverted to the Litter Reduction Program, all of which result in increased costs.”

As a result, supervisors also moved forward with granting Commonwealth Attorney Susan Fierro’s request for an additional full-time assistant commonwealth’s attorney to serve her office in December.

In Ashcraft’s budget, among the $503,000 in new positions, two new police officers are requested.

On the fire and EMS side of public safety, the number of calls to dispatchers that required one or more EMS units rose by 11 percent to just short of 3,700 calls in 2019.

While the county administrator’s proposed budget doesn’t include any additional paid first-responders, his budget does request a deputy director of Fire and EMS for the county to serve alongside current director Brad Owens.

Even though the county’s department of social services were not part of the December’s budget amendment that saw new staff brought on to support increasing departmental demands, they, too have seen their own workload increases in 2019. According to Ashcraft’s presentation, last year, the department conducted 32 investigations, which resulted in 14 founded dispositions, an increase of nearly 30 percent over 2018.

The county’s DSS also served 57 young people in 2019, up just over 32 percent over the prior year.

Ashcraft’s proposed FY2021 budget provides funding for an additional case manager, which would largely be supported by the state, with the county only needing to cover just over 15 percent of the position’s costs.

The county is also seeing positive increases in demand for county parks and recreation services. In his report leading into the budget presentation, Ashcraft noted there has been a five-percent increase in the department’s leagues and eight-percent increase in athletic camps.

With the county serving as the home of a number of parks and recreation facilities, Ashcraft’s budget includes the hiring of an additional senior grounds maintenance worker, along with $10,465 to pay for a refinish of the Central Wellness Center gym floor.

As the board prepares for their upcoming work sessions on the budget, it is likely the topic of support for departments in the face of growing demand for services will highlight much of their discussions going into the spring.

Copyright 2020 by Womack Publishing
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