Grant Extends Office’s Mediator Program

SNOW HILL – Despite Worcester County’s refusal of funding, the Worcester County State’s Attorney Office will retain its mediator program for another year.

The County Commissioners did not include funding for the mediator position in the fiscal year 2009 budget in accordance with their stated moratorium on new positions.

“The most important request I had in my budget was to fund the mediator position in my office,” said Joel Todd, Worcester County State’s Attorney. “It didn’t get funded.”

Although the mediator program has been in placed for three years, the mediator position was funded by a grant from the Maryland Mediation and Conflict Resolution Office (MACRO). With the three-year grant period up, county funding would have been needed to continue the program, adding the cost of salary and benefits to the county budget and in effect creating a new position under county finances.

Todd appealed to MACRO to extend the grant another year and the agency agreed, he reported to the County Commissioners Tuesday morning.

“Because they are so happy with our program, even if you aren’t, they decided to fund it another year,” Todd told the County Commissioners.

Commissioner Linda Busick praised the mediator program.

“It was a matter of funding,” she said of the commissioners’ decision to axe the mediator from the State’s Attorney budget.

MACRO will pay $39,911, the salary of mediatior Katherine Cropper, and the State’s Attorney’s Office will pay the grant match, $7,071, the benefits for the position.

Todd found the match funding in his own budget without recourse to the County Commissioners. With Ocean City’s decriminalization of open containers of alcohol, the State’s Attorney Community Service Division no longer needs one of the summer office assistants approved by the county. The cost of that temporary position covers the county match for the MACRO grant.

“Thank you so much. This is a very valuable program,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs to Todd. “I really appreciate your persistence in getting this grant to keep the program running.”

Commissioner Louise Gulyas also praised Todd’s efforts Tuesday.

“Thank you for locating the money for this,” said Gulyas. “That shows a lot of planning on your part which is what we’re trying to get everyone to do.”

Mediation is used for cases in which criminal charges are laid at the request of a citizen, not a police officer. The mediator program brings parties in domestic, harassment, and similar situations together to work out their differences before the matter goes to court. The program intends to deal with the underlying dispute, rather than simply the criminal incident in question.

Roughly 98 percent of people contacted about using the mediation services take advantage of the help. In the last year, the mediation program took on 37 cases, with 35 signing off on a resolution.

Mediators believe that people are capable of solving their own problems in many instances, given opportunity and a safe environment to work them out. The service is free.

“We’ve actually, we believe, prevented crimes from happening,” said Todd. “It’s saving court time, judge time, law enforcement time. It’s money well spent.”

The state and county economic picture may not improve in the next 12 months, the commissioners warned.

“For next year, it’s wait and see,” said Gulyas. “I urge you for next year to find some money somewhere.”

“If you can’t find the money [next year] you have one vote,” Boggs said.

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