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By Peter H. Milliken
If the Mahoning County commissioners don’t restore the $100,000 they cut from his budget, county Prosecutor Paul J. Gains said he’ll either have to sue the commissioners for that money or make cuts in his office that will have dire consequences.
“If I am forced to lay off personnel, which is highly likely, the prosecution of criminal cases will suffer dramatically,” and the prosecutor’s office may lose some cases, Gains wrote to the commissioners.
Gains also sent copies of his April 27 letter to the county’s common pleas judges, other officeholders and The Vindicator.
“Failure to adequately fund this office will also result in delays in the disposition of cases, resulting in overcrowding of the jail and the probable filing of another lawsuit” by prisoners alleging unconstitutional jail crowding,” Gains wrote.
“Some of the criminal duties will have to be assumed by civil-staff attorneys, resulting in less service to elected officials, both county and township,” he added.
The prosecutor did not respond to requests to comment further on his letter Thursday.
The commissioners unanimously docked Gains’ budget $100,000 on March 23 because of their dissatisfaction with the $220,000 in pay raises the prosecutor gave his staff Jan. 31.
Some of the raises were between $8,000 and $10,000 annually, said John A. McNally IV, chairman of the commissioners. He called the raises excessive under current local economic conditions.
Raises for assistant prosecutors, which Gains said average 10 percent, were needed to keep prosecutors from leaving his office for higher-paying jobs, Gains said.
Ohio law gives the elected prosecutor the authority to set salaries for his staff as long as he stays within his budget, Gains said.
McNally said Gains met with the county commissioners in a staff meeting after sending the letter, and the commissioners await additional financial information Gains said he would provide them this week to support his request.
“So I guess it’s a little premature to make any pronouncements about the $100,000 or anything else, but I’m still very comfortable with the decision we made to take the $100,000 away from him,” McNally said Thursday.
“I’m also comfortable with the decrease. I mean money’s tight all over Mahoning County right now, so everybody’s going to have to tighten their belt a little bit,” said Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti.
“I’m not sure how he would move his attorneys around. That’s up to him. He’s the boss of his department, but he is supposed to bring us a plan,” she added.
No additional meetings between Gains and the commissioners have been scheduled on the matter.
Gains called the commissioners’ removal of $100,000 from his budget “unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious” and illegal. “Thus, a lawsuit, however regrettable, may be my only option,” Gains wrote.
“I do not deserve this ill-conceived, political and personally motivated shot at me and my staff. But, more importantly, the victims of crime and the general public deserve better consideration from this board of commissioners,” Gains wrote.
If Gains sues the commissioners, “I don’t know if there will be any consequences for the county, except more legal fees,” McNally said.
, adding that he thinks outside counsel would have to be hired for Gains and the commissioners.