Theory of adult diversion program still on the table in York County, but for consideration in next fiscal year

YORK – While all the York County Commissioners seem to be in favor of creating an adult diversion program here, they want to wait until the next fiscal year as the expense was not included in the current budget.

A diversion program is a voluntary program which offers a one-time chance for a person charged with certain crimes to avoid having a criminal conviction on their record. It is considered to be a rehabilitation program of sorts which would also have successful participants avoiding jail time and lengthy cases and high legal costs.

The idea was brought to the York County Commissioners by the juvenile diversion director and the York County Attorney’s office in the last week of budget preparation for the 2023-24 fiscal year. At that point, the commissioners had already pretty much formulated the expenses for the fiscal year and had just held the pink postcard meeting during which they were asked by constituents to cut spending.

They decided to not include expenses for creating an adult diversion program in this fiscal year because the budget process was already in the end stages when it was proposed.

The budget was approved three months ago yet the conversation about an adult diversion program in York County continues to take place.

This past week, York County Commissioner Chairman Randy Obermier asked for the topic to be placed on their meeting agenda.

“I’d like to see what the feelings are, of this board, about this, as this is now grant application time,” Obermier said.

Grants finance the majority of costs for juvenile diversion so it would be assumed grants would eventually play a big role in the program’s financing should it be approved in the future.

“Is this something we want to entertain doing now or does this board have the same stance as it had at budget time?” Obermier asked.

“It really comes back to the fact we were presented with it late during budget time,” Commissioner Daniel Grotz said, “when we were seeing where our spending was and we said not in this current year. Some circumstances have changed and we need to decide if we want to change our direction or wait until next year’s budget time.”

“If the board wanted to do something now, Jan. 1 is the half-way point in the fiscal year. This would be implementing something new. We can’t go back and change the levy so we would have to reallocate some budget funds, about $50,000,” said Obermier. “I’ve visited with the clerk and the auditor, the financial side of it can be done but if we do this mid-year, the question is if this opens us up to doing other things mid-year. People presenting this idea are very passionate about it, we need to decide if we are as well.”

“The cleanest way to do it would be to wait until the next fiscal year,” said Commissioner Woody Ziegler. “But the information we also got from the county attorney’s office shows we’d save substantial money in the long run. If it is something that could really help with adult offenders, it could save the county money. But it’s a challenge.”

“I’m stuck in that budget world, that’s what I focus on,” Obermier said. “It is laid out how we should budgetarily operate by statute. I’d probably learn toward seeing it having a clean start at the end of the fiscal year and work it into the next budget. So if we waited until then, they (diversion and county attorney offices) could still work on it to get things going. We’d still have to start without any grant money.”

“I’m right there with you,” Grotz said. “At that time, our intent was to try to hold spending. We’d just had the postcard meeting when we were asked to cut spending. Now, at mid-year, we hope to see savings but we are at a point where we’d be increasing the money being spent at mid-year. I’d agree, it would be smoother and more responsible to wait until budget time.”

“It’s a tough decision, but I think we need to stay with the budget at this time,” said Commissioner Stan Boehr.

Ziegler said he feels there is great benefit in such a program, “but the message from the pink postcard meeting was to not spend more money. But change does take time.”

“I don’t think anyone is not believing in the program,” Obermier said. “But it’s more about timing for me. I’d like to wait. I don’t want to break the budget.”

“I’ll go along with starting this in a fresh budget,” said Commissioner Jack Sikes.

“I appreciate their efforts in bringing this forward,” Ziegler said. “Maybe we need to have more sessions in educating the public about this program so there is buy-in. We should be able to show that being pro-active with adult behavior can make a difference.”

The matter will be discussed further when the next fiscal year begins.

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