Archived Story

Commission approves full-time status for criminal investigator

Published 9:49am Thursday, June 24, 2010

Cassopolis Vigilant

It’s just coincidence that it’s Father’s Day weekend, but Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz’s $8,764 request for a change in status to full-time for criminal investigator Scott Wellman does relate to paternity.

Commissioners approved Wellman, who divided his time between two days in Fitz’s office and the sheriff’s office to five days a week with the prosecutor for the three-month balance of the 2010 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

By increasing the number of paternity establishment cases by 50 per year, the potential annual taxpayer reimbursement “is easily over” $100,000.

Fitz requested a full time position in 2011 budgeting.

The current two days per week are paid through the prosecutor’s general fund budget.

The additional three days per week and applicable benefits will be covered through the child support grant.

Under the child support grant, the county pays a third of the costs. The state absorbs reimbursement for the remaining 66 percent of costs, so the estimated additional salary cost to the county would be $2,246, plus benefits, which commissioners debated for 18 minutes.

Fitz said three additional days of child support investigation work will focus on conducting additional child support paternity/client interviews.

DNA testing, increased child support collections/prosecutions and process serving on child support cases.

His “financial rationale” for this increase – Fitz pointed out that in seven years that returned more than $135,000 from his budgets, this was the first time he “stood in this well” seeking more money:

• More than $100,000 potential annual taxpayer reimbursement by substantially increasing the number of child support orders established
• More than $25,000 potential annual taxpayer and citizen reimbursement through pursuit of delinquent child support payments.
• $3,000 additional annual recoupment of annual state incentive money.
• More than $1,000 estimated savings in reduced process server expenses.

Non-monetary benefits include additional assistance in building security when necessary (Wellman is deputized) and added versatility/cross training for the office.

Not to be overlooked is the critical aspect of more children having knowledge of who their father is, Fitz said, and, consequently, having their dad enter their lives.

Studies consistently show that when both parents are part of a child’s life, the likelihood of that child thriving and succeeding greatly increases.

“Last year in this country,” Fitz noted, “41 percent of the kids were born into non-marital situations. Those numbers are increasing.”

Since he succeeded Scott Teter in 2003, his staff has increased the annual average number of paternity establishment cases from 154 to 216.

“In the lives of children, this translates into over 50 children per year in Cass County having a greater parental presence in their lives, both financially and emotionally,” Fitz says.

In 2009, his office’s Child Support Division secured 255 paternity/child support orders.
With an additional three days of child support investigation and enforcement per week, Fitz anticipates the number of paternity/child support orders to consistently reach the level of 350 to 400 annually.

Each custodial parent also can anticipate the easing of their financial burden and a more stable household when the other party to the creation of their child is recognized and assumes their share of the financial and emotional responsibilities of raising a child, Fitz said.

Finally, “by a conservative estimate,” each paternity establishment results in an annual reimbursement of $2,400 to taxpayers.

Interim Administrator Chuck Clarke, who was absent June 17 due to the death of his mother-in-law, did not recommend the move during the budget year due to precedent it could set for other elected officials.

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