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State leaves Gasconade County holding the bag for now-vacant victims’ advocate position

Posted on Tuesday, July 11, 2017 at 11:35 am

The Gasconade County Courthouse.

The Gasconade County commissioners finally got to meet the employee they didn’t know they had. However, they didn’t get to know her very well.
A few months after they met Erica Horne, she was gone. So, too, apparently, is the position she held. Horne was the crime victims’ advocate for Gasconade and Osage counties.
Unfortunately for the Gasconade County Commission, and, more directly, Prosecuting Attorney Mary Weston, the cost of having the position hasn’t gone away. Or, more to the point, hasn’t been reimbursed by the state.
Indeed, Weston’s office so far is looking at a financial hit of about $20,000.
County Clerk Lesa Lietzow recently updated the County Commission on the status of the position that became vacant with Horne’s departure — a position that, according to Lietzow, won’t be filled by Weston.
You might remember that earlier this year the County Commission suddenly realized it had an employee it didn’t know it had — Horne, who had started working as the victims’ advocate back in October of last year.
The position, a new one provided through the state’s Department of Public Safety, would provide information to crime victims, information ranging from available services to keep them informed of the progress of the cases against their offenders.
In an interview with The Hermann Advertiser-Courier, Weston, who played a key role in the establishment of the advocate’s program, talked in glowing terms of the work Horne was doing.
Horne’s time was split between Gasconade and Osage counties, with Gasconade taking care of all the paperwork. That also meant Gasconade taking care of the financial expenses, which was a source of concern for the County Commission.
It has become an even larger source of concern considering the delay in receiving reimbursement from the Department of Public Safety (DPS).
Lietzow said it’s not known when the state will make good on its commitment to reimburse the county. Until it does, a fund in the prosecuting attorney’s operating budget will be paying the expenses associated with the position.
But this isn’t the only such expense that’s grating on the County Commission. Rather, it’s merely the newest one.
A more familiar expense continues to be troubling for county administrators — and not just those in Gasconade County.
Indeed, the shortage of state payment for prisoner lodging affects every county in Missouri.
Here’s how the per diem prisoner lodging reimbursement work:
• Arrests are made on state charges and the defendants placed in county jails to await trial. At this point, they are the responsibility of county government. According to law, state government provides an amount to counties to help pay for the feeding and lodging of the defendants.
• Once a defendant is convicted of a state charge and sentenced to prison, he or she becomes the responsibility of state government and no longer reimburseable to a county.
Although the law calls for the state to provide about $37 a day for prisoner reimbursement, the Missouri Department of Corrections actually has been providing about $20 a day. State government has historically shorted the counties in prisoner per diem reimbursement.
Gasconade County is owed about $20,000 for this expense, also, Lietzow told the County Commission. “That is just the story of our lives,” Lietzow said, with a sigh of resignation.
But that might change soon, said Dick Burke of the Missouri Association of Counties (MAC). The organization is the statewide voice of county government in Missouri.
According to Burke, the amount owed to Gasconade County is small compared to what some counties are owed. “There are counties where it’s six figures,” Burke said in an interview with The A-C.
He said MAC has discussed the issue of prisoner reimbursement with the new director of the Department of Corrections, who has been directed by Gov. Eric Greitens to begin reworking the beleagued state agency. How much that overhaul will extend to the per diem reimbursement program is unclear given the governor’s drive to cut state spending.
Burke remains hopeful. “We’ve reached out to the new director of Corrections and she’s aware of that,” he said.
As for the matter of the crime victims’ advocate position and the issue of lack of reimbursement, Burke said he was unaware of the problem. “This is the first I’ve heard about it,” he told The A-C. But, he added, if it’s a problem in Gasconade then it’s a problem in other counties and he likely will be hearing about it soon.