Albert-Heise retained as defender

DEBORAH ALBERT-HEISE

BY MICHAEL J. RUDOLF

Wyoming County Press Examiner

TUNKHANNOCK - The Wyoming County Commissioners decided Tuesday to retainDeborah Albert-Heise as public defender for one year.

The commissioners opted for Albert-Heise over outgoing District Attorney George Skumanick, even though Skumanick's salary quote was substantially lower.

"We tried to look at what's best for the county," said Commissioner Judy Kraft Mead.

Albert-Heise will be kept on at the salary listed in the coming year's budget, which is $54,739.67. She will also be allocated $39,000 for office expenses and $400 for dues to professional organizations. However, $300 budgeted for travel costs will be eliminated.

In addition, Selyne Youngclaus had her contract extended for three years, at a salary of $14,000 for the first year and increasing by $1,000 each year following.

Youngclaus had been budgeted to receive $26,404, through a line item in the county juvenile probation department's budget.

By contrast, Skumanick had offered to take over both jobs for $77,000, which would include both salary and office expenses.

Commissioner Tony Litwin said even with that reduction, the county would have had to endure the extra cost of hiring  other attorneys to represent clients already in the judicial system, since Skumanick had already begun prosecuting them. Litwin said the commissioners estimated that could have cost the county from $25,000 to $50,000 more.

Neither Albert-Heise nor Skumanick were at the meeting.

However, afterwards, Albert-Heise said she is glad she was retained. But she noted that she had made an offer for a two-year or three-year contract at a lesser cost. The two-year deal would have saved the county $2,500, she said, while the three-year agreement would have been for $7,500 less.

"I'm pleased that I got the contract. I'm just surprised they didn't take the option that would have saved them more money," Albert-Heise said.

Skumanick, when asked around mid-day Tuesday, said he was disappointed the commissioners did not follow through with their promise to meet with the applicants before rendering a decision.

"I thought this was a way to save the county a significant amount of money," he said.

The commissioners decided in November to request the letters when they learned that there were others besides Albert-Heise interested in the position.

She has held the post since 2003, when she was hired to replace the late David Posatko. At that time, Albert-Heise received a three-year contract, and has been re-hired on an annual basis since 2006.

Youngclaus has worked as the juvenile public defender since 2004.

In May, Albert-Heise challenged Skumanick for the Republican nomination for DA, with Skumanick coming out the winner by just 21 votes.

Skumanick had also defeated Albert-Heise for the Republican nomination in 1993 and 1997.

In November, Skumanick was defeated by Democrat Jeff Mitchell, who received a 477-vote plurality in the balloting. Mitchell takes over as DA on Jan. 4.

The commissioners also gave final approval to the county's 2010 budget, which was unchanged from the preliminary budget OK'd at the beginning of the month.

There is no tax increase in the $12,142,280 spending plan. The tax rate is set to remain at 20.848 mills.

A mill is a $1 tax on every $1,000 of assessed property value.