HOLLIDAYSBURG - After anticipating zero funding in the state budget for victims of juvenile offenders programs, Blair County officials expressed optimism after learning the state budget passed with an additional $1.3 million allocated to those services.
Blair County's exact allocation for juvenile services will not be revealed for several weeks, and what to do with the limited funding is still up for grabs.
After initially learning of the anticipated lack of funding for juvenile crime services, Betty Young, victim advocate in the Blair County Juvenile Probation Office, resigned in June.
The position was subsequently removed from the county payroll, and administrators are attempting to fill in the gap now that additional funding will be coming.
The move prompted the Juvenile Probation Office to solicit the aid of the Blair County District Attorney's Office to help cover what could have been an influx of new clients, Director Nancy Williams said.
"We were going to really put an extra burden on the District Attorney's victims of crime unit," Williams said. "They were very gracious and willing to help step in and work with victims of juvenile crime."
The move would have added increased responsibilities for the DA's four-person victim witness staff, Blair County Deputy District Attorney Wade Kagarise said.
Now, officials must decide whether to convince the Blair County Commissioners to reinstate the victim advocate position or explore other possibilities of filling the role between the two offices or hiring a new full- or part-time employee to fill the gap.
"The first hurdle is getting the permission from the salary board to recreate the position," Williams said.
The $1.3 million in funding will be distributed among all 67 counties by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency based on each county's population, juvenile dispositions and penalty assessment collections, according to the commission.
The funding will only be in place through Dec. 31, Williams said. Area agencies have not been informed if additional funding will be available at the start of 2013.
The commission praised the addition to the budget, hailing the funding as a victory for both advocates and victims.
"Gov. [Tom] Corbett has said all along that restoring a dedicated funding stream to this program was a priority for him," PCCD Chairman Mark Zimmer said in a press release. "He has made good on that promise.
"On behalf of the advocates who provide the services and the victims who will benefit, I thank him for keeping his word," Zimmer said.
Officials said they hoped to make an informed decision about the future of Blair County's juvenile office as early as Monday, if the allotments for each county are released by then.
"As soon as [the commission] releases that, then we can go back and see what direction we want to go," adult victim witness program director Sue Griep said. "It's good news that the money's there, it's just that we have to see what amount of allocation is given."
While the immediate crisis is over, Griep's office is braced for its own difficulties -- an anticipated 20 percent drop in funding slated to take effect in less than a year.
"So we'll have to see what we're going to do," Griep added.
In the immediate future, the Juvenile Probation Office and District Attorney's Office plan to take a slow, realistic approach to solving the budget problem.
"It was a team effort working with them over this budget crisis," Kagarise said. "We have confidence we'll have a team approach," adding that both offices are in a "wait and see mode" ahead of the allocation announcement.
Mirror Staff Writer Zach Geiger is at 946-7535.