St. Joseph County Probate Judge James Fox says his department's budget needs to be increased in 2014 to help best serve at-risk youth in the community.
He was called back to meet with members of the county commission and council after several questions were raised about the proposed budget he's outlined.
Among other things, it includes salary increases for some employees.
The Juvenile Justice Center is searching for a new psychologist, but hasn't had much luck attracting candidates with the advertised salary.
"We posted it at a higher increase and we really have only had a little bit of interest at that rate," Fox said.
He's asking for a $23,000 increase, which would take the psychologist's salary from $62,587 to $85,587. Fox says there's a qualified candidate who expressed interest in the position if the proposed raise was approved.
The salary increase would be paid for with Probate User Fees and would not come out of the general fund.
"At this point I still think there are some questions and that debate will continue," said County Council President Rafael Morton. "[The proposed salary] was based upon the psychologist they're trying to obtain with a PhD. And I believe that PhD was requested because of the types of cases we're seeing with our juvenile population."
Fox says national statistics show nearly 70 percent of juveniles entering detention centers have at least one mental health issue.
He's also asking for an additional $200,000 in 2014 for longevity pay. The salary increases would be for those who work directly with juveniles at the St. Joseph County Juvenile Justice Center. The increases would be based on each employee's tenure with the department.
"Other facilities we see actually would get pay increases," Fox said. "There's a hesitancy to do that because of the budget freeze, but we think it's important in terms of safety of the children."
He says the increase would help lower the turnover rate of JJC staff, which is important in a youth detention center because of the amount of daily interaction.
The committee says it needs more information on the longevity pay before it can decide whether to support the proposed increase.
"You're talking about the number of increases based upon a year or two years, the amount of those increases, how those increases were calculated based upon other juvenile centers -- not only in this area but throughout the county."
Fox plans to respond to the committee's questions by the end of the week because of the tight budget deadline. Each county department will have their amended proposed budgets returned next week for review. The proposed 2014 budgets will then be published for the public to examine.
Department heads were told to flat line their budgets for next year. Morton says most did so or only asked for small increases.
"We're looking at hopefully the next several weeks to get back together with the full council and talk about pay increases and detailed items in each person's budget," he said.