CASA seeks fees, fines

Elizabeth Trexler-News-Herald

Loudon County's CASA is facing budget shortfalls this year because the national organization lost $150 million from the Office of Juvenile Justice, according to Sandra Weaver, executive director of CASA of the Ninth Judicial District.

But Weaver said local budget woes could have been avoided.

State Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, proposed legislation in 2011 that would allow the Loudon County courts to levy a $45 fine against someone who was found guilty or pled guilty to victimizing another person. Weaver told the Loudon County Commission Monday night that the county simply needs to act on the legislation, allowing Circuit Court Clerk Lisa Niles to collect the money.

Another provision of the legislation includes a $5 litigation tax for all civil and criminal cases filed in the county.

"We have lost at least $24,000 from the commission not passing this and letting it go into effect July 1 of last year, if the estimates are correct," Weaver said.

"The first three dollars of each assessment shall be paid to the clerk of the court imposing the assessment for processing and handling," the bill states. "The remaining $42 shall be transmitted to the county in which the offense occurred for the exclusive use of the victim's assistance program previously designated by the county legislative body."

Weaver explained to commissioners that the problems the national CASA office is experiencing will impact Loudon County.

"I've written lots of short-term grants," Weaver said. "National CASA won't be funding like they normally do."

Commissioner David Meers asked if it would cause work for Niles' employees.

Weaver explained that it is a budget line item and didn't think collecting the fee should cause considerable extra work.

Commissioner Harold Duff wanted to know if CASA's efforts were a duplication of services already available, but Weaver explained the purpose of CASA is to use volunteer labor to help children involved in the legal system.

Cindy Lamb, program coordinator for CASA, said 34 children were served in Loudon County last year. "Right now, we have 11 children we are advocating for," she said.

According to CASA, the organization provides trained citizen volunteers who advocate for abused and neglected children. Volunteers recommend to the courts how to best help the child, either by having them in the care of parents or someone else, Weaver said.

While no agenda is finalized, the item might be voted on at the Feb. 6 commission meeting.