LIVINGSTON COUNTY – The Livingston County Board of Supervisors is calling on the State of New York to immediately provide additional funding to the Livingston County’s Public Defender’s Office to cover anticipated expansions to deal with broadened eligibility for assigned legal counsel.
The county Ways and Means Committee unanimously approved the resolution on Monday. Several other counties in New York are pressing the state to fund their county Public Defenders Offices.
“Greene County has taken a pretty decent lead on this, and several counties are all trying to get together and push the state to do this,” said County Administrator Ian Coyle. “The Senate and Assembly have a couple weeks yet to be in Albany legislating, so timing is right for us to do this and push for it.”
Currently, anyone who makes less than 125 percent of the federal poverty line and below is eligible for the public defender. Effective Oct. 3, this will increase to 250 percent of the federal poverty line.
After this mandate, a single person must make a net income of more than $29,700 per year, to be eligible for the Public Defender. This does not take into consideration household assets or spousal income, or income devoted to costs of living like mortgages and rent. A married couple must make less than $40,050 to be eligible and a family of three must make $50,400.
The increased caseload is expected to force the Public Defenders Office to hire at least one additional attorney as an assistant to handle the new cases. Coyle said that the costs associated with the increased caseload could easily force the county to increase the tax cap for 2017.
“You have a school of county residents who heretofore would have gone to defense counsel in town, and paid them, that now are going to at least have the option to get it for free,” said Coyle. “How many of people will take it for free rather than pay?”
Members of the Ways and Means Committee said Monday that the county should push harder to get state funding for public defenders office expansions than for the mandatory $30,000 salary increase for the Livingston County District Attorney.
“In all honesty, we should push harder on this than for the DA’s [salary increase],” said Livonia Town Supervisor and Committee Member Eric Gott. “It is more cost.”
The New York State Bar Association has also written a formal demand to the state demanding additional funding to cover increased Public Defender costs.