Lycoming County commissioners question trial costs

Lycoming County commissioners questioned payments connected to a recent murder trial during their regular weekly meeting Thursday.

After some discussion, commissioners voted 3-0 to table a motion to pay Forensic Bioinformatic Services Inc. $14,347 for expert testimony in the Dante Washington homicide case.

Washington, 27, of Williamsport, was convicted in the December trial involving the robbery and shooting of a cab driver in 2014.

But Commissioner Rick Mirabito, for one, had some questions about the costs being imposed on the county.

He noted that the bill the commissioners decided to withhold included a $1,500 cost for a day when the expert witness didn’t testify.

The request for county payment of that bill came from the county public defender’s office.

But Mirabito also questioned a request by the district attorney’s office for its $15,033 bill to Cybergenetics, which provided DNA evidence in the case.

Commissioners approved that bill by a vote of 3-0.

“We budget money. We try to figure out how to keep costs down,” Mirabito said.

Lycoming County District Attorney Eric Linhardt said the county cannot always afford to hire firms such as Cybergenetics, which can provide expert testimony.

He said the Dante Washington case involved a particularly heinous crime that called for working with crucial DNA evidence.

“It would have been difficult to get a conviction otherwise,” Linhardt said.

Mirabito said the court system has to find a way to avoid running up unnecessary costs.

“Let’s work together so when we bring in an expert witness at $1,500 a day, let’s not keep him waiting,” he said after the meeting.

Commissioner Tony R. Mussare said keeping down costs in court cases can be a frustrating process.

“And how many of these cases get appealed anyway?” he asked.

In other matters, commissioners were asked by Tom Heaps, of the county tax office, to consider hiking the rates paid by the county to tax collectors over the next four years.

Tax collectors earn $1.75 per real estate tax bill.

Heaps is asking for increases of $2.25 per tax bill for 2018 and 2019 and $2.50 per tax bill for 2020 and 2021.

He said many tax collectors positions in a number of municipalities have remained unfilled, in part due to their low earnings.

Commissioners have until Feb. 15 to act on the matter.

Commissioners approved professional service agreements with EIHAB Human Services for the juvenile probation office for shelter care services and with C. Townsend Velkoff for counseling services and assessments.