MAYVILLE – Chautauqua County District Attorney Patrick Swanson, as expected, requested an increase in his budget in order to hire a special narcotics prosecutor as he presented his tentative 2019 department budget Friday in a joint meeting between the County Legislature’s Audit & Control and Public Safety Committees.
“I don’t think it’s any secret what I’ve come in here to ask of you folks,” Swanson said. “My hope is that the budget I have here is approved so that we could add that position January 1.”
Swanson, who spoke one-on-one with WNYNewsNow after his presentation Friday, said he’s very pleased with how the meeting went.
“With a budget process, you’re really not sure what you’re going to get until they give it to you,” Swanson said. “It was very nice to hear Chairman Pierre Chagnon indicate that he was happy I presented them with a responsible, well-thought out budget.”
“I feel confident that they (the committees) believe it’s (a special narcotics prosecutor) needed at this point.”
Swanson said his budget increase is at around 2.3%, or about $50,000, with a local share increase of $28,000. He added that his office will be receiving a $19,000 surcharge that will start in January 2019 from a workers compensation.
The $50,000 increase will be part of the $65,000 allocation towards the special narcotics prosecutor.
County Legislator Terry Niebel (R), who serves as the Public Safety Chair and is also a member of the Audit & Control Committee, stated that he originally questioned the request.
“At the committee meetings I wondered about the funding,” Niebel said. “Quite frankly, I wondered about the dedication of the money to this specific position.”
“It does look, if we approve this position in the budget, it will be dedicated to a special narcotics prosecutor.”
Swanson said that this would be the only significant change regarding staffing this year, and that he wouldn’t be adding any additional investigators. He mentioned that his staff previously had an increase in work hours after meeting with former County Executive Vince Horrigan who, according to Swanson, thought the hour increase would help Swanson’s office operate effectively.
Niebel addressed a concern he had with a letter that Swanson sent to both committees requesting a special narcotics prosecutor, which was dated for September 11. In the letter, Swanson said, “While I prefer to hire an experienced prosecuting attorney, in Chautauqua County, they are not common.”
Niebel encouraged Swanson to hire a competent attorney from Chautauqua County who may be younger, and could gain experience before moving elsewhere.
Swanson said he’s tried to hire lawyers from Buffalo, but to no avail. He said, at this point, his goal is to hire an attorney for an entry-level position, while transitioning someone internally to a narcotics-dedicated prosecutor.
The District Attorney has stated in the past that he seeks to send his prosecutors to at least one conference a year, especially as there’s various requirements that must be satisfied for the New York State Bar Association.
Niebel and Legislator Lisa Vanstrom, Vice Chair of the Public Safety Committee, both said how most of those conferences are out west rather then east. Swanson said that there’s a value that’s worth his prosecutors attending the conferences, which Vanstrom responded by calling it an “expensive value.”
Swanson also discussed a course, valued at $60, that must be completed in order to even consider having a traffic ticket reduced to a parking ticket.
The alternative? A person would face a $300 fine and points on their license, per Swanson.
Swanson said the goal is to reduce the number of repeat offenders, hence his office’s policy not to automatically reduce a ticket.
Vanstrom said that she can’t support the measure. She also inquired about how much time Swanson’s office dedicates to traffic violations.
“I feel like that is a great deal of wasted resources at a very high price,” Vanstrom said.
Swanson said that his office covers traffic calendars for every court in Chautauqua County, despite it not being required by law. He said that they do it for every town but Hanover, who has employees for the traffic violations, because they don’t have the budget.
DA Swanson, however, said that the traffic violations often coincide with misdemeanor calendar court, and a prosecutor would be there regardless.
WNYNewsNow asked Swanson, a member of the county’s Democratic Party, about how frequently politics plays a part in his job. He said that, at times, politics plays a role but for the most part, his job remains nonpartisan even during the budget process.
Swanson said that he believes the County Legislature, which is overwhelmingly Republican, places the safety of county residents ahead of party politics.
Swanson was also asked about how his office attempts to curtail recidivism with those arrested and charged with drug possession.
“Reducing recidivism is always a challenge, no matter where you go,” Swanson said. “We have more people in drug court than we ever had before. That’s directly linked to the number of narcotics possessions cases we have. We have already surpassed last year by almost 100.”
“With the addition of a narcotics prosecutor, my hope is we are going to get more consistent and more severe penalties for the people who are peddling this poison in our communities.”
A full 2019 budget must be approved by December 1.