Bonfield wary of court-system subsidies

Feb. 17, 2013 @ 08:04 PM

Facing a proposal to pay the state crime lab to work on Durham cases, City Manager Tom Bonfield is once again urging elected officials to take a hard look at the local subsidies they’re channeling into the court system.
The issue is “one that continues to not just concern me, but also has increasing potential for funding requests,” Bonfield told City Council members on Friday.
“There are clearly constituent groups who are going to be supporting any one of these areas,” he said. “Collectively, they can add up to be some pretty good money.”
Bonfield illustrated his argument with a PowerPoint presentation that listed the various judgeships, assistant prosecutors, clerks and social workers that either are or could wind up being on the city’s payroll.
All told, the city is spending $352,204 already, counting the money it contributes to the countywide warrant-control office and toward having an emergency judge available to handle domestic-violence cases.
There’s an additional $566,662 worth of grant-paid positions whose funding has expired already or is scheduled to expire sometime in the next year or so. They include money to pay prosecutors assigned specifically to gang-related and domestic-violence cases.
Bonfield told the council he’s worried that as the grant money runs out, supporters of the affected programs will “be knocking on the door” for city aid.
Moreover, the Durham Police Department is facing budget pressures of its own, thanks to state rules pushing it to seek accreditation for the in-house evidence technicians who analyze firearms, fingerprints and computers for detectives.
That may include the hiring of additional technicians, to ensure checks and balances on any one analyst’s work. All told, police believe accreditation would cost the department $2 million over five years.
The accreditation issue is one that helped push county officials to the idea of paying the State Bureau of Investigation to assign three technicians to work solely on Durham cases that require an analysis of blood or drug evidence.
The Police Department already relies on the SBI for that work since none of its technicians have expertise in those fields. But backlogs at the SBI lab mean it can take a year or so to get a case ready for trial.
A county study said paying for SBI technicians would save the time and expense of securing accreditation for a local blood- and drug-analysis lab. Current estimates are that the SBI option would cost $186,051 a year.
County Manager Mike Ruffin has said he’ll only support the idea if the city splits the bill with his government 50-50.
Bonfield said that while there clearly “is a need for improved services out of the SBI labs,” city administrators haven’t made any commitments to Ruffin. He’s asked for information on what money the county might save if the program leads to shorter stays by crime suspects in the Durham County Jail.
Council members said they’d want to hear the Police Department’s take on which of the subsidy programs merits the highest priority. That’s “under the premise we’re not going to be able to fund all of these,” Councilman Eugene Brown said.