Officials look to extend waterline into Belmont County
State proposal would lower county's indigent defense fees
Indigent counsel fees and a waterline extension to serve residents in eastern Guernsey and western Belmont counties were the topics of a Zoom meeting attended by Guernsey County commissioners recently.
The Village of Barnesville has a main waterline along Ohio 800 that stops just south of Interstate 70 and officials wanted to discuss extending the service to the Hendrysburg and Kirkwood Township areas in Belmont County and Fairview in Guernsey County.
"Barnesville has agreed to supply the water, but they don't want the responsibility of maintaining the lines," said Guernsey County Commission Dave Wilson of a potential extension of the current line.
"These were preliminary discussions regarding what it would take to continue the waterline under I-70 and west to the Fairview area to serve customers along the way. There is a real need for reliable water service in these areas, because they don't have any right now."
Others in attendance for the Zoom meeting included representatives from the Ohio Mid-Eastern Governments Association, Belmont County commissioners and the Village of Fairview.
Wilson said commissioners have agreed to co-fund an engineering study to determine the cost of such a project.
A previous study obtained by Fairview officials is not feasible due to the size of the proposed waterline.
"That study included an eight-inch line and the Environmental Protection Agency will not approve that big of a line," said Wilson. "If there are not enough uses on a line of that size, it will not cycle the water properly and becomes a safety concern.
"We will see where the new study takes us," added Wilson.
Commissioners also met with several representatives of the local legal community to discuss fees paid for the defense of indigent clients in criminal cases and the need for more attorneys to offer services to those individuals.
"It is difficult to find indigent defense counsel in Guernsey County," said Wilson.
Guernsey County currently pays $60 per hour for in-court and in-office services for indigent clients in criminal cases. The fees were increased to the current level in 2019.
There is also a cap for the level of the crime being defended.
"It's not just about getting an attorney," said Wilson. "You have to be qualified for the level of the offense that you are defending."
In 2020, indigent defense attorneys in Guernsey County submitted 8,883 billable hours resulting in $159,900.99 in payments from the county's General Fund.
The county receives a 70% reimbursement from the State of Ohio.
Wilson said the County Commissioners Association of Ohio has been working for years to get a 100% reimbursement from the state and Gov. Mike DeWine has made indigent defense reimbursement a priority in his budget proposal.
The current proposal is a 94% match, which would have lowered Guernsey County's cost to $31,980.20 a year ago.
"That's quite a chunk of change," said Wilson of the potential savings.
Local attorneys and judges would like to see the county increase the rates for indigent defense, but, according to Wilson, they don't expect such an action to take place until after the state's legislature passes a budget that matches DeWine's request.
Fees for in-court/out-of-court indigent counsel services in the area include Belmont County, $60/$50; Coshocton County, $75/$75; Harrison County, $75/$75; Monroe County, $75/$75; Muskingum County, $60/$50; Noble County, $60/$50; Tuscarawas County, $75/$75; and Washington County, $55/$55.