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Probation office seeks help in financial pinch

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Fewer people have been sentenced to probation in Greenwood, and now the city office isn’t making enough money to pay all its bills.

From 2012 to 2013, the probation office’s income dropped by $100,000, and officials aren’t sure why fewer offenders are being sent to probation, who then pay the fees that fund the office. For 18 years, the probation office covered all salaries with fees that people on probation pay, as well drug user evaluation and drug test fees, Judge Lewis Gregory said.

But this month, the judge asked the city board of public works and safety to pay for six months of health insurance costs for the office’s three employees. The board agreed to pay for three months, or up to $20,000, and then consider his request again if he needs to extend that to six months.

The probation department has cut costs, such as laying off one probation officer and transferring another to a different city department. For about two years, the probation office has paid the difference between revenue and expenses out of savings. But now, the probation office’s savings have dropped to $30,000, or about enough to cover one month’s operating costs, Gregory said. The department should keep enough in savings to cover at least three months’ expenses, he said.

The number of offenders sentenced to probation and referred to the Greenwood probation office, which is part of the Greenwood City Court, dropped from 404 to 375 between 2012 and 2013. Gregory said he doesn’t know why the number dropped.

The probation office also might have been impacted by business and government office closures during winter storms, he said. County offices were closed in cold weather, but people also weren’t working on days that there was heavy snow, he said.

With the cuts made and the city helping cover the health insurance costs, the probation department should be able to build its savings again, Gregory said. The number of offenders on probation has increased again, so the office should be able to at least double the amount the office has in savings within the next few months so the city won’t need to cover more costs, he said.

“If we’re at about $50,000, I will consider it past the crisis point,” he said.

He will find other solutions for making up for the department’s shortfall before asking the city for more money, so taxpayers don’t have to pay for probation office programs. Gregory declined to discuss what possible solutions could be.

“I really think that people who are convicted of crimes ought to bear the burden of expense for programs we have for them,” he said.

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