SALINE COUNTY, IL (KFVS) - Money which provides legal counsel to those who would otherwise be unable to afford such is at risk in Saline County, Illinois.
At a Saline County Board meeting held on Monday, Saline County State's Attorney Mike Henshaw requested the county continue paying more than $60 thousand to Henshaw's office, as the county has done for roughly a year and a half.
"When Henshaw originally requested the money, he said it would allow him to hire an assistant State's Attorney, so he could handle more cases," Saline County Board member / Finance Committee chairman Joe Jackson said on Tuesday. "Theoretically, more cases means more revenue for the county. But since we've been giving the money to Henshaw's office, we haven't seen much additional revenue."
Since August of 2015, Jackson said the board has discussed cutting the funds out of concerns for general operation in the county.
Those discussions take place amid what Jackson calls a "legitimate need" to keep paying.
"Crime is up in Saline County"
"Crime is up, and it seems more people are unable to pay legal fees." Jackson said on Tuesday. "Say a crime is a committed, and a victim of that crime who doesn't have money for a lawyer wants to press charges. Such a case may go by the wayside simply because without this money, the State's Attorney's office may not have the manpower to do anything."
Jackson said the board as a whole has deemed fronting the funds a worthwhile venture, but some argue how the board plans to do so is not legal.
Jackson said the first, and "most attractive" option is to take money from the Saline County Clerk's office Automation Fund, which is primarily accumulated through use of recording fees charged to the public upon request.
He said the Fund has accumulated to more than $340 thousand since 2006.
Moving money around
"Keeping this money where it is seems unnecessary," Jackson said. "The Automation fund is used mainly for computer and equipment upgrades at the County Clerk's office, and it's been increasing at a rate of more than $34,000 every year..
"We don't want to take all of the fund, we don't want to take a third of the fund." Jackson said. "but we cannot continue in the same vein that we've been in for the last several years… we don't have the money available."
"We have not 'gobbled up' the funds," Saline County Clerk Kim Buchanan said. "The board wants to come and tap into this office's money, but we need the money to sustain this office and keep it in operation."
Buchanan expressed concerns that the Automation fund would deplete naturally within ten years due to rising expenditures and lowering revenues in her department.
Separate from the Automation Fund, Buchanan said her office has recently cut at least $72 thousand from their individual budget and is currently using the Automation Fund to pay the salaries of two employees.
Buchanan admits she recently learned using the funds for salaries is illegal altogether but says that's only because she began researching statutes out of fear the board was planning to Illegally appropriate the Fund.
According to Illinois State Statute 55 ILCS5/3-5018, "The additional amounts available to the recorder for expenditure from the recorder's Automation Fund shall not offset or reduce any other county appropriations of funding for the office of the recorder."
Jackson said the board acknowledged the shady legal status of taking the money and is awaiting a legal review before acting on the matter.
"Conflict of interest"
The review is being conducted by Saline County State's attorney Mike Henshaw: the person who asked for the money in the first place.
Under a separate statute, the county board is required to rely on the legal counsel of their own respective State's Attorney, which is Henshaw.
"I trust Henshaw to perform an unbiased review." Jackson said.
An employee at Henshaw's office said Henshaw was unavailable for comment on Tuesday.
Unwilling to request legal counsel from Henshaw due to what she called a "conflict of interest", Buchanan asked for advice from Jackson County Clerk Larry Reinhardt.
"These funds can only be used for the statutory purpose." Reinhardt said in an email to Buchanan on Tuesday, as he quoted statute.
Down the road
A hearing will be held on Wednesday, January 13, 2016 at 11 A.M. to hear Henshaw's findings on the legality of using the Automation Fund, which Jackson said Tuesday may include citation of a Supreme Court precedent pertinent to the issue.
"Money is getting tighter and tighter," Jackson said, "We're looking into ways of doing things unlike how we've ever operated before."
The second option is to get the funds from the Harco Roads funds, which multiple sources claim bears a balance exceeding $1 million.
"The Harco Road fund is used in an entrepreneurial manner, and provides revenue for the county," Jackson said. "With that fund, we help local governments with road improvement projects around the county, and the interest alone is used as revenue into the general fund."
The board plans to discuss findings of Henshaw's legal review on Tuesday, Jan. 13 and a board meeting the following week will examine the topic, as well.