Victim Witness facing funding crisis

By Eddie Mowen Jr. - [email protected]

EATON — Funding for the year for Preble County Victim Witness looks grim, according to director Brenda Miller.

Miller met with Preble County Commissioners on Monday, June 21, to give the board an overview of what the program does, and to give them a “heads-up” on what this year looks like for the agency.

According to Miller, since 2018, the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) funding has been decreasing. “Until this next grant year, I had been able to sustain with making cuts within our program that have been able to help us. We’ve had a carryover.”

Five or six years ago, according to Miller, then Clerk of Courts Chris Washington gave Victim Witness a donation and helped out when the budget was cut then.

“And so, this year, I don’t have it,” she said.

“We are eligible to only ask for $45,000. And that’s that’s not going to be enough for us,” she said of the VOCA funding.

Victim Witness will lose an advocate on staff without additional funding. “We have tried very hard to make cuts in the program ourselves,” Miller noted, pointing out a switch in internet service providers to save money, cuts in postage use by emailing as much as possible, and the staff member dropping the county’s insurance to save the office money.

They’ve tried to save money however they can, she added. “Our supplies, if it’s not a necessity, we don’t buy it. So we’re trying very hard to not use any supplies. We also used to have an on-call phone because we are on call 24/7. We used to carry a cell phone — we’ve done away with that and we use our personal cell phones now. So we still have that service. We just don’t have the phone.

“So we have tried to save everywhere we possibly can,” Miller said.

She hopes to know a definite amount for the grant funding they will receive in six to eight weeks, she told commissioners. Funding for VOCA is from federal prosecutions, and there’s less of that happening, she added, which means less money is going into the fund.

Miller explained that if she gets the $45,000, that money, along with funds provided by the county and City of Eaton and one other grant, could fund one staff member, and Victim Witness could afford to have the second advocate for one day each week at $14.50 per hour.

“I don’t imagine she’s going to stay for that. And if it’s just down to me, I’m going to have to give up a lot of our services,” Miller said. “One person just can’t service all the courts.

“And by law, we have to provide the victims of crime with updates on their case,” she added. “A lot of that, I’m not going to be able to do by myself.”

Miller said she wanted to give the commissioners a heads-up that she would be coming back and requesting funds to keep her staff and the program going.

Preble County Victim Witness’ caseloads increase each year. Last year, according to Miller, they had 432.

“We appreciate you being proactive and giving us a heads-up on the conversation,” Commission President Rachael Vonderhaar said.

By Eddie Mowen Jr.

[email protected]

Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4061 and follow on Twitter @emowenjr

Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4061 and follow on Twitter @emowenjr