County attorney wants to add victim’s advocate in 2019

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MONTROSE – Lee County could have a victim/witness coordinator in place next fall if all pieces fall into place.

At Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Lee County Board of Supervisors, Lee County Attorney Ross Braden and First Assistant Jonathan Stensvaag approached supervisors about the possibility of hiring someone to advocate for victim’s rights in the county.

Braden said an application process for a grant to fund the position’s salary is due on Sept. 28, so the county needs to move quickly.

He said the found the county currently has 222 victims in case management and that doesn’t include assistant county attorney Bruce McDonald’s files which are not indexed in the case management system. He said with those files figured in, the count is probably closer to 250.

“It’s important for our office to establish a relationship with these people and maintain communication, not only because the victims deserve that attention and not only because it’s mandaged by code, but because it helps us in the long run when we prosecute the cases,” Braden said.

“We are processing cases and showing up in court. We simply don’t have the time or resources to give the community what it needs in establishing the rapport and maintaining this communication with victims of crimes.”

He said prepping witnesses and victims, especially children, takes a lot of time to develop a rapport and the trust with the individuals.

Braden said the grant would cover a salary of approximately $39,000, but asked the county to pay for the benefit package.

He said 70% of the counties in Iowa have at least one victim/witness coordinator. He said of the 30 that don’t have the officer, 26 of those counties have a population less than 20,000 people.  Lee County has about 34,000 residents.

Funds for the position wouldn’t be available until October 2019. The funds require a 25% match, which would be at least $8,500. Braden said the benefits package would be between $20,000 and $22,000. He said the funds work as a reimbursement program where the state reimburses the county for that portion of the salary on quarterly payments.

“It is the responsibility of the county and the county attorney to make sure victims have their rights protected and make sure they get proper justice. So often I hear so much about the rights of the person accused of the crime and I felt for years victims are almost like a secondary citizen. This is a very important step forward for us as a county doing our job to protect the rights of victims in the county,” said supervisor Ron Fedler.

In other action, supervisors

• approved forgiving taxes on 14 properties in Keokuk as requested by the city officials so the city can begin dealing with the properties. Several hiccups in the abatements took place when legal paperwork on the property certificates didn’t include proper entities. The tax abatements amounted to just over $21,500.

• approved hiring Scott Edwards as a new full time building and maintenance technician.

• approved a tax suspension for property at 402 Avenue A in Fort Madison.

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