MANSFIELD -- Unanswered questions asked three months ago about Richland County's share of Mansfield Municipal Court operational costs led to commissioners making a unilateral decision on Thursday.
County commissioners agreed to pay the state-required 40 percent share of Mansfield Municipal Court salaries and benefits for only one magistrate and for municipal court employee health insurance premiums, not actual medical claims.
Commissioners had raised questions in July about increasing costs, citing a 39 percent increase in 2018 compared to 2017. By state law, the county is responsible for two-fifths of the court's operations.
The city bills the county each January, including $356,436.96 for 2018 compared to $255,987.65 in 2017, commissioners said.
Commissioner Tony Vero went over a three-plus page outline of his attempts to get information from and gain agreement with Mansfield Law Director John Spon and Finance Director Linn Steward, including phone calls, e-mails and personal visits.
Vero said he was frustrated city officials have not been more responsive to his attempts. Richland Source left a voice mail seeking comment from the law director's office Thursday afternoon.
During a Sept. 27 meeting involving Vero, Richland County Assistant Prosecutor Andrew Keller, Steward and Assistant Law Director Chris Brown, Vero said Brown had promised a written proposal from the city regarding court costs by Oct. 1.
Vero said he had not heard from the city since that meeting and that decisions needed to be made as the county prepares for 2020 budget meetings.
Fellow commissioners Marilyn John and Darrell Banks agreed it was time to made a decision.
"You asked them to put it in formal writing so we could review it. They have not done that. So we will go with what we decide. Too much time has already been spent on a lack of response from them," John said.
After the meeting Thursday, Vero sent an e-mail to Steward and Brown that read, in part, "When both sides met on Friday, September 27th at 10:00 Mr. Brown informed the County (myself and Prosecutor Keller) that we would receive the City’s formal proposal with respect to benefits costs by “October 1st.” Subsequently, the County never received said proposal. As a result, the Commissioners continued with a discussion about this matter as previously scheduled and told as such to the City at that meeting. In an attempt to resolve this nearly 3-month matter, Richland County will pay the following in 2020 as part of their Municipal Court Share: 1) one bailiff per judge, 2) one magistrate, and 3) funding (premium) levels only associated with the employees the County is legally required to pay for.
"I hope the City finds this amenable to them, and please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions," Vero wrote in the e-mail.
More than half of last year's increase ($54,265.79) was for health insurance costs for two judges, a clerk of courts, a magistrate and two bailiffs, Vero said in July.
The city also added a second full-time magistrate in February this year at an annual salary of $103,457.12, according to Vero, and granted 7.5 percent pay increases to the bailiffs, who have a base salary of $66,200.16 (not including longevity pay).
Vero said the second magistrate was added despite the fact the court's total caseload actually declined slightly in 2018.
The City of Mansfield is self-insured and it appears the city billed the county for 40 percent of premiums and claim costs, as opposed to just premiums, commissioners said.
"That's not how insurance works," John said.
Vero said, "We just need to make our decision. If they have an issue with that, we can discuss that next year."
All three commissioners again said the city has a right to compensate its employees how it chooses, but that the county has a right to question that compensation when 40 percent of the salaries and benefits are borne by the county's general fund.
Also on Tuesday, commissioners set a deadline of Oct. 25 for general fund departments to submit 2020 budget requests.
Commissioners also approved the hiring of Melissa Houghton as a part-time deputy dog warden (20 hours per week at a salary to be determined). Houghton had been the director of operations at the Richland County Humane Society.