By James Smith
People are working to change Audrain County’s legal climate.
There is a move afoot to make the office of the Audrain County Prosecutor a full-time position.
One of the spokesman for the movement is Jason Newton, a Mexico-based attorney. “With Audrain County being the size that it is and the volume of work going through the courts,” Newton said, “it is unrealistic to expect a part-time prosecutor to manage that volume of work.”
Jacob Shellabarger, Audrain County’s prosecuting attorney described his volume of work. In March 2014 he said he put in 215 hours.
• April 2014, 253 hours
• May 2014, 228 hours
“There really isn’t a typical work week,” Shellabarger said. “I put in between 40 and 70 hours. It just depends on what needs to be done and when.”
“When,” is part of the equation. “Serving as prosecuting attorney requires availability, expertise and focus,” he said. That includes Shellabarger’s 10 person staff being available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “The job requires personal availability for preparing search warrants, providing law enforcement assistance, scheduling victim meetings on the victim’s schedule and constant trial preparation.”
While people in Audrain want their courts to prosecute, there are concerns about the fiscal implications.
According to Audrain County Clerk Shelley Harvey, Shellabarger’s annual salary is $61,998.73. Additionally, as the county prosecutor for a county that hosts a prison, he receives an additional $12,500 stipend bringing his “take home pay” to $74,492.23.
Currently the position’s salary is set by the county wage commission, Harvey said.
Either way, the salary would still be paid by the county, she said.
If the initiative receives the 1,000 or so signatures necessary to be placed on the November ballot and receives a simple majority of yes votes, Harvey said the county would no longer determine the salary.
The position, she said, would be on approximately the same pay scale as an associate cir-cuit judge and set at the state and federal level.
Currently a full-time county prosecutor’s salary starts at $133,716, she said.
Tom Groves, Western Audrain county commissioner agreed.
“The wage for any county position should be based on what a county can afford,” Groves said. “We have kept the prosecutors’ salary the same for all these years because we have to take care of our employees, offices and county equipment. I don’t know where the county can get any more money.”
If passed, the change would not take effect until after the 2015 election.
Harvey said if enough signatures are collected the petition needs to be turned in to her office by August 22 so all the signatures can be verified by the Aug. 26 deadline.
One petition is available to sign at Ennis Implement in Vandalia.