MAHONING COUNTY Judges redirect funding to save mediation service

Judges shifted 75 cents in court fees from other programs to help fund the dispute resolution agency.
YOUNGSTOWN -- After teetering on the verge of extinction, a local problem-solving agency has new life.
Judges at the four Mahoning County misdemeanor courts -- located in Austintown, Boardman, Canfield and Sebring -- found a way to pump more revenue to Mahoning Valley Dispute Resolution Services without increasing court fees or imposing new ones.
"It's great news," said Jan Bailey, executive director of the agency. "We have the matching funds that we need, so we're in good shape that way."
The private, nonprofit agency provides mediation services, mostly for low-income people and mostly in the county's misdemeanor courts and local municipal courts.
Local fund match
The agency depends on a federal grant for the bulk of its funding, but must provide local matching funds to leverage that money.
The grant application for the next two years' funding was due Sept. 20, but the agency did not have enough money to meet its match obligation.
Without the grant money, the agency most likely would go out of business, Bailey said. She had asked the county for help.
Court fees
In 1997, the lower court judges enacted a 25-cent fee for each filed case in their courts, with revenue set aside to help fund the dispute resolution agency. It brings in about $5,000 to $6,000 a year, but Bailey said that is no longer enough.
Robert Rupeka, common pleas court administrator, said the judges agreed to redirect 75 cents in court fees away from other programs into the dispute resolution services fund, giving it a total of $1 per case.
Rupeka was not sure which programs the money was taken from, and none of the judges could be reached to comment.
Bailey said the grant application was submitted on time and she should know in November whether it's approved.
About the agency
The agency was founded in 1991 by a group of people from the legal, education and business communities, clergy and civic organizations who wanted to provide people with an alternative to court.
It is staffed by volunteers who are trained in mediation and focuses mainly on low-income housing concerns. They also deal with parenting or custody and neighborhood issues and landlord-tenant disputes.
Matters are referred into the program from the courts and from community agencies before lawsuits are filed. If they are resolved through mediation, it avoids taking the matter to court.
Bailey said the agency handles some 500 to 600 cases a year.

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