The Delaware County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday voted unanimously to establish a public defender’s office.
The proposal was an initiative of the board’s legislative committee, according to Colchester Town Supervisor Arthur Merrill, who sits on the committee.
Tina Mole, the board chairwoman and Bovina town supervisor, included the proposal in her list of legislative priorities for 2019.
“It’s been discussed in enough committees over the last couple of years that we’re all pretty on board at this point,” Merrill said.
The Board pushed the proposal through in order to begin advertising to fill the position immediately, Merrill said, “optimistically by June 1.”
He estimated that 60 to 70 percent of defendants in Delaware County courtrooms would qualify for the services of a public defender.
“We just need to move forward and do the best we can to defend these people,” he said.
A 2017 initiative by the state legislature committed $250 million to reimburse counties for the costs of public defense in an effort to ensure uniform access to legal services for qualifying defendants across the state, under the terms of a 2014 settlement with the New York Civil Liberties Union in an indigent defense lawsuit, Hurrell-Harring v. State of New York.
The Hurrell-Harring program would allocate $174,000 for the first year of public defense operations in Delaware County, doubling the amount for the second year and tripling it for the third, Merrill said, adding that if the office is established before the state budget deadline, it would immediately qualify for its second year of state funds after April 1.
In other business, the Board approved a modification to the county budget, allowing for undistributed unemployment benefits in the General Fund to roll into the Employee Benefit Reserve at the end of the year, and a resolution authorizing the Board Chair to enter into an agreement with the Catskill Watershed Corporation for the purchase of a vacuum truck.
The agreement is funded by the West of Hudson Stormwater Retrofit Program, which provides for the design, construction and maintenance of infrastructure to control stormwater runoff and reduce the flow of pollutants to the water supply.
Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at email@example.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.