The judge says money is needed to prevent children from committing crimes.
YOUNGSTOWN -- The theme of the Mahoning County Juvenile Justice Center's budget hearing was simple: If we don't pay now, we will pay later.
Judge Theresa Dellick of juvenile court told county commissioners Wednesday the county is better served putting its money into "building children rather than building prisons."
The judge has submitted a 2005 budget request of $5,183,000, minus the amount of money the commissioners would have to appropriate for hospitalization costs for her 100 employees. Her employees are prepared to pay a portion of their health insurance costs, she added.
The juvenile justice center budget for 2004 was $5,338,900.
Since she took office in 2001, 21 employees have been laid off, and those remaining are doing multiple tasks. Employees have not received a pay raise in three years, and none is planned this year. She also told commissioners she's reduced postage and cut other expenses.
Juvenile crime increases
But juvenile crime is on the increase, she said.
Mahoning has one of the highest poverty levels in the state, and "poverty and low population drives crime," she said.
Since 1999, filings have increased by 20,000. There were more than 9,100 cases alone filed in 2004.
The national trend is juvenile offenders are getting younger and more violent, Judge Dellick said.
Juveniles are committing crimes such as murder and rape at age 12, she said.
The juvenile court hears cases in 16 different areas involving juveniles, including paternity claims, which constitutes its largest caseload.
The judge has implemented several nationally and state recognized intervention and preventive programs to help reduce juvenile crime. All of those programs require parental involvement, she said.
She said the budget request she's submitted for 2005 is money well spent and would keep the county from paying more money down the road to incarcerate young offenders who grow up to commit more crimes.
"Anything less jeopardizes the community's safety," Judge Dellick said.
Members of the county's juvenile advisory board, superintendents from Youngstown and Canfield, and the executive director of Help Hotline and Mahoning County Alcohol & amp; Drug Addiction Services Program also lauded the judge's proactive approach to dealing with juvenile crime, and urged that funding be continued for programs such as the drug treatment court.
Commissioners expect to have between $34 million and $35 million to appropriate this year -- a 30 percent drop in revenue because of the loss of the half-percent sales tax that expired last year. Budget requests from general fund departments, however, have totaled $57 million.
Commissioners are using 1999 as a benchmark because that was the last year the county had about $35 million to spend. The juvenile justice center's budget in 1999 was $3,869,267, but it spent just $3,330,978 that year, said Joseph Caruso, assistant county administrator.