Limestone County District Attorney Brian Jones is asking that the county’s fiscal 2020 budget include $100,000 for his office to help it adequately prosecute a growing caseload as revenue declines.
“I’m two lawyers short,” said Jones, who made his request Monday morning after the Limestone County Commission’s first of two budget sessions. Jones and the county’s three assistant district attorneys “cover all four (district and circuit) courtrooms,” he said.
“It’s becoming a problem,” Jones said, noting the growth in Limestone County is putting pressure on the criminal justice system.
The office is responsible for prosecuting every felony and misdemeanor case within the geographic boundaries of Limestone County, which includes annexed portions of Huntsville, Madison and Decatur, according to Jones.
In the calendar year 2018, the office prosecuted 884 felony indictments, 2,602 misdemeanors and 5,000 traffic cases, according to a budget request letter from Jones to Limestone County Administrator Pam Ball. As of Friday, the office had produced 447 indictments in 2019, with more grand jury terms expected this year, and processed 1,524 new cases and 2,158 traffic cases, he said.
Jones said the office is trying two murder cases in August and two in September.
The office’s operating budget exceeded $800,000 in fiscal 2018, and it received $305,860 in state funding, according to Jones. The balance of the revenue is generated through court costs, DA collections, bail bond fees, asset forfeiture, victim service funds and worthless check fees.
“Every single revenue source is dropping,” with a decrease of about $175,000 occurring since fiscal 2011, Jones said.
“We’ll take (every entity’s) budget request into consideration,” Chairman Collin Daly said after the commission’s meeting. But, “our budget is probably going to be as flat (for the upcoming fiscal year) as it was last year.”
The cost of the annual salary, retirement and benefits for two assistant district attorneys would total $132,264, Jones told commissioners. That amount doesn’t cover the costs associated with prosecuting felony cases, such as travel, computer equipment and preparation for court, according to Jones’ letter.
Last year, Jones asked Limestone County and the cities of Huntsville, Madison and Decatur to include $200,000 in their budgets for his office. In his letters to officials with the municipalities, Jones had said the city of Madison has four capital murder cases and the cities of Huntsville, Madison and Decatur have numerous other felony charges pending in Limestone County Circuit Court.
During the budget hearing Monday, Chief Deputy Fred Sloss III with the Limestone County Sheriff’s Office asked for funding to hire two more deputies in its budget request.
In a letter to the commission, Sloss said two additional deputies would help improve response times and deter crime with an increased law enforcement presence.
The office’s call load increases each year, with the office receiving “over 12,338 calls halfway through 2019,” Sloss said in his letter.
The cost of the salary, retirement and benefits for two deputies would total $122,709.02, according to the budget request.