State probation shifts to county

T-L Photo/ROBERT A. DEFRANK Belmont County Common Pleas Judge Frank Fregiato speaks to Commissioner J.P. Dutton and others Monday, saying the county will be responsible for monitoring more individuals on probation next year,after the state shifts about 100 people to local control. He and Belmont County Common Pleas Judge John Vavra said the state’s biennial budget provides funding for an additional probation officer.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — County court systems in Ohio will have a bigger probation-related workload in 2020, but state funding has been released to help meet the demand.

Belmont County Common Pleas Judges Frank Fregiato and John Vavra and members of the probation staff described the situation Wednesday to Belmont County Commissioners Josh Meyer, J.P. Dutton and Jerry Echemann.

“This will have an effect on the common pleas court system here in the county,” Meyer said.

“The biennial (state budget) has been passed,” Fregiato said. “As part of that overall financial budgetary system, the way individuals on probation or parole (are monitored) is going to be changed. What is happening is that the state is sending all individuals that they are monitoring back to the county level, back to us.”

Fregiato estimated this will amount to about 100 more individuals for Belmont County to monitor. However, with that responsibility comes a grant of $150,000 per year, or a total of $300,000 during the life of the biennial budget.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen after that,” Fregiato said.

“What we are able to do with that $300,000 is hire another probation officer and still give us extra money for a gun, for a phone, for a car, and still have money left over,” he continued. “That, in addition to grants … we’re hoping to continue to save the county substantial funds.”

In answer to questions from Meyer, Fregiato said the money is available immediately.

“We’re going to build those funds up without touching them,” he said, adding that individuals on probation will be transferred to the county for supervision beginning Jan. 1.

Echemann asked if this method of monitoring would be an improvement. Fregiato said there were advantages to a more local probation system.

“We’re going to be monitoring everybody, and that is a better way,” Fregiato said. “You can only do so well as you can with the limited resources, so it makes sense for us to hire an additional individual.”

Vavra added that the courts are also losing two parole officers, increasing the need for another probation officer.

“The state of Ohio new provides us with the services of two parole officers, but by sending the people back, they are essentially taking away those parole officers, and so we need to replace those two people,” Vavra said.

Fregiato said they would schedule further meetings with the commissioners to update them on the grant status.