ASHLAND — It was the “year of the personnel change” for the Ashland County Prosecutor’s Office, said Chris Tunnell.
Tunnell, the county’s top attorney, presented his office’s budget request on Tuesday as departments across the county also put together a financial road map for 2023.
The Ashland County Prosecutor’s Office is requesting slightly more than $1 million, an 8.2% increase from last year’s request.
The bulk of that increase is in wages, according to the office’s 2023 proposed budget request sheet.
“Our costs are pretty steady with the exception of people,” Tunnell said, adding his office will go through another hiring process soon, as a secretary found another job recently.
“The only way to be competitive and get those quality people is having the ability to pay them. So the more you want to send my way, the more quality people I can hire,” he said, addressing county commissioners.
Earlier in the year, Doug Smetzer — the office’s chief investigator — retired after serving 36 years in the role. Tony Shambaugh moved up to replace Smetzer, and Tunnell hired former Ashland Police Division detective Kim Mager as an investigator.
Linda Allton, a longtime administrative assistant, also retired, Tunnell said.
“When Linda retired, that hurt. That was 28 years of office management out the door,” he said. “Her replacement came on and was doing really well. She was getting in a groove and then got head hunted by Charles River. She’s now the deputy director of their HR department. So we weren’t able to hang on to her.”
Tunnell said the position has since been filled.
Then, Victor Perez resigned, moving to a role as assistant prosecutor in Loraine County.
After a lengthy hiring process that produced little to no applicants, Tunnell said he hired Mike Callow to replace Perez.
“We didn’t have anybody applying for that. You’re looking at what was the felony division from June to September,” Tunnell said, referring to himself as the "felony division," a responsibility typically designated for an assistant prosecutor. He found Callow in September.
“He’s a professional, and he knows his way around a court room,” Tunnell said of Callow.
Tunnell updated the commissioners on his office’s progress when it comes to the number of felony, civil and other cases that have either been reviewed or filed over the year.
Last year ended up being a record year when it came to the number of felony cases filed at 268. As of Oct. 31, the office has filed 212 and reviewed 417.
He said the use and trafficking of methamphetamines continue to drive those felony cases.
Other case numbers continue to stay steady, Tunnell said.
But the most “heartening” numbers are coming out of the office’s children services division, he said. Tunnell hire Beth Liggett in May to help bolster efforts there between the prosecutor’s office and the Ashland County Department of Job and Family Services. She replaced Stephanie Todaro, who resigned in March when she landed another job in Wayne County.
As of Oct. 15, there were 91 children in custody.
“That sounds high until you break the number down,” Tunnell said, adding the number can better be understood by breaking it up by permanent and temporary custody.
The kids in permanent custody are eligible for adoption. That number is 36 in Ashland County, which is a number that has stayed flat over the years.
Kids in temporary custody are the marker of success, Tunnell said. At the beginning of the year, the number of kids in temporary custody — those brought into care — was 94. As of Oct. 15, that had decreased to 55, he said.
“That’s a substantial decrease,” he said. It means those children are being reunified with family members, which is the goal.
Commissioner Jim Justice praised the prosecutor’s office for those numbers.
“I applaud everyone on these numbers,” Justice said. “I’m really encouraged by all this and appreciate it very much … it means a better life for these kids.”
Appropriations for county departments have not yet been finalized. Commissioners hope to approve a final budget for 2022 by the last meeting of the year in December.