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Commissioners deny CASA request for part of add-on fee revenue
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The Ogeechee Judicial Circuit’s Court-Appointed Special Advocates will have to wait to receive funding from the same source as Effingham County Victim Witness Assistance Program.

Effingham County commissioners turned down request by CASA executive director Lainie Jenkins and board president Karen Cote to receive a portion of the 5 percent add-on fees currently directed toward Victim Witness.

Senate Bill 114, passed in 1995, enacted a 5 percent add-on fee to certain fines to help fund local victim assistance programs.

Like Victim Witness, Jenkins said, CASA receives Victims of Crime Act Assistance (VOCA) grants. To get VOCA grants, CASA needs non-federal matching money. The state Criminal Justice Coordinating Council informed CASA in February it was eligible to receive money from the 5 percent add-on.

CASA asked for 30 percent of the add-on fines directed toward Victim Witness, with the goal rising to 50 percent in the second year.

“We don’t want to make anything difficult for Victim Witness,” Jenkins said. “They also count on the money. My concern was not to take anything away from Victim Witness. They’re entitled to the same grant process we are.”

County commission Chairman Wendall Kessler said he spoke with the bill’s author, state Sen. Jack Hill, and asked the legislator to clean up the measure.

“In my opinion, the bill was written vaguely,” Kessler said.

Kessler also offered the concern that CASA may start a trend of organizations asking for a part of the add-on fees.

“We start splitting this thing up, we’re going down where we’re going to have to fund it through some other means. You’re the first; but you’re not going to be the last.”

Ruth Lee, who was one of Victim Witness’ early proponents and pushed for the 5 percent add-on fee legislation, asked commissioners not to split up the add-on fee revenues.

“It was targeted for victims of crime,” she said. “We have spent most of our time working with victims of domestic violence. One of the things our group insisted on is that county commissioners allocated where that money went.”

Jenkins said many counties have victim-serving agencies and the money is split evenly.

“A child victim of abuse and neglect is a victim of crime,” she said.

Commissioner Forrest Floyd asked that if CASA started receiving a portion of the add-on fees, would that money be used in Effingham County or would it be applied to cases in the other three counties. Jenkins said CASA does not see the counties as separate.

“It is our duty to channel the money raised in this county to stay in this county,” Kessler said.

CASA’s budget has grown from less than $30,000 to $180,000, Jenkins said. Victim Witness’ budget is $93,000, said Effingham Victim Witness director Heather Wadrose, and the group gets $53,000 of its funding from VOCA grants. The remainder comes from the add-on fines.

“That is something we’re extremely dependent on,” Wadrose said.

Last year, Victim Witness helped 285 victims, and the agency provides utility assistance, gas cards and transportation assistance. There were another 430 people Victim Witness provided information or referrals.

Jenkins said CASA served 125 kids two years ago and 90 in the most recent fiscal year. Over the last three years, 61 percent of the children served have been from Effingham. The Ogeechee CASA covers all four counties in the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit.