In addition to not getting a new assistant district attorney as he requested, Martin said the budget cuts mean “at a minimum” he will have to eliminate another assistant district attorney, one county detective and two members of his administrative staff.
The district attorney said there have been 15 homicides in Lehigh County this year, adding five of them involved domestic violence, including one at 7 a.m. Wednesday. “You think maybe those cases ought to be prosecuted vigorously?” he asked commissioners. “You think I ought to have the funding to be able to do that?”
Martin said his office has investigated more than 800 domestic violence cases so far this year. “You think those cases should be properly investigated and vigorously prosecuted? I won’t be able to do it.”
He also said 15 gangs are operating in the county, many of them involved with drugs “and most of them are right here in center city.”
“The judges strongly caution against the proposed cuts,” President Judge Carol McGinley told commissioners. “The cuts will be very harmful to the proper functioning of the judiciary and to its goals of public safety and service.”
McGinley said: “For the last three years, Lehigh County judges have cut personnel and only stopped doing it this year because there were no more positions to cut. The proposed cuts amount to almost 10 percent of our personnel budget. Facing this, after three years of cutting personnel, the court is stymied about how to meet this mandate. We are way past the point of doing more with less.”
McGinley said the courts are operating at full capacity. “It is not the right time to reduce the capacity of the courts to address adult and juvenile crime.” She warned Allentown may become more unsafe and assessment appeal cases will be delayed for several years.
Ronald Rossi, the county sheriff, said “cutting my office would be a disaster.” He said some days his deputies escort 100 prisoners to appear before county judges. Rossi said he will do everything in his power to protect those judges. “A lot of people we deal with are not pocketbook snatchers. They are hard-core criminals. Gang members. Drug people. I want to make sure I have proper protection for county officials.”
County Coroner Scott Grim said a $58,000 cut proposed for his office would pay for 30 autopsies. “Do I pick and choose to perform an autopsy? I will not lessen the integrity of a death investigation for $58,000. I will not tell a family I cannot perform an autopsy on their loved one to determine the cause of death because I do not have the funds for it.”
Edward Sweeney, director of the county’s corrections department, said a $1.6 million proposed cut for his department will have “dire consequences. I can’t imagine how I would do this, other than to run the type of facility where all the offenders are locked in their cells for 22 hours every day and basically gut all rehabilitative programming.”
Andrea Naugle, the county’s clerk of judicial records, said she already reduced her staff by 20 people in the last five years. She said the proposed budget means she would have to cut four or five more. “I think we would be in trouble.”
Naugle said if the budget is passed, the first thing she will do is stop issuing passports, which her office does as a service to county residents. She said her office issued more than 2,300 passports last year, generating $50,000 in revenue for the county.
Several people spoke in favor of preserving “quality of life” funding, although none of the amendments considered directly addressed that issue. They included representatives from Lehigh Valley Arts Council, Allentown Symphony Association, Lehigh Valley Musicians Association, Allentown Art Museum and Baum School of Art.
Dougherty said if the budget is cut by $5 million anything not essential or mandatory probably will be cut, including quality of life grants and farmland preservation.