Centre grant aims to combat violence

BELLEFONTE – Centre County’s efforts to combat domestic and sexual violence continues to grow, with continued grant funding in the new year.

On Tuesday the Centre County Commissioners approved the new year’s STOP Violence Against Women Grant award agreement in the amount of $135,000. Funding from the grant is used to combat crimes of domestic and sexual violence. The grant period is Jan. 1, 2018 through Dec. 31, 2018.

Several weeks ago, the commissioners approved the STOP grant application between the county and the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. According to County Administrator Margaret Gray, the amount of the funding awarded was higher than originally anticipated, and the grant pass-through agreement with the Centre County Women’s Resource Center will be increased from $43,750 to $53,750. This is the amount that the county will pass on directly to the women’s resource center, Gray explained.

“I really want to thank PCCD for increasing the amount,” said Commissioner Mike Pipe. “There were some decreases in the initial funding and a lot of victim advocates across the state had advocated for additional funding.”

According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s website, for each state and territory that is awarded STOP Grant funding, 25 percent will be allocated for law enforcement, 25 percent for prosecutors, 30 percent for victim services, 5 percent to state and local courts, and 5 percent for discretionary distribution.

Another critical service in the county that is looking toward continued grant funding is emergency management.

The county commissioners have endorsed a grant application to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency for the 2018 Emergency Management Performance Grant.

The grant request is in the amount of $101,523.56 for Oct. 1, 2017 through Sept. 30, 2018.

“We’ve done this for a number of years, several years, and this has always been a really good way to offset some costs,” Pipe said.

Centre County Emergency Management Agency Director Jeff Warren said funding from the grant reimburses the county’s emergency management office for up to 50 percent of its employees’ salaries and benefits

In other business, the commissioners approved six salary requests from new county District Attorney Bernie Cantorna.

“What we have here are all experienced staff, be it the attorneys or the paralegals,” Cantorna said.

There is an increase of about 8 percent in the budgeted salaries for the office. Pipe discussed working to offset the costs from existing funds in the office. Cantorna said he will be looking into this.

“We want to be fiscally responsible and have the office operating in an efficient manner,” he said.

One new staff member in the District Attorney’s Office is Shawn McGraw, a lawyer with 20 years of experience. McGraw has worked as a former assistant district attorney, public defender, and he has done private practice work as well, Cantorna said.

McGraw will come in as third-in-command in the office with a reclassified position of deputy district attorney in the trial division.

His start date will be Jan. 2, with a starting annual salary of $82,139.20.

Another position that will be reclassified is that of paralegal 2 to executive district attorney, a role that will be filled by Nicole Courter.

Courter will have a starting salary of $26.48 per hour.

Two new assistant district attorneys are Amanda Bernier and Joshua Bower. Cantorna said both Bernier and Bower have three to five years of experience. Bernier and Bower will have starting salaries of $55,619.20 per year, with a start date of Jan. 2.

An experienced paralegal who will be returning to the District Attorney’s Office is Eileen McKinney.

McKinney previously worked with the Centre County Heroin and Opioid Prevention and Education Initiative.

Her starting salary will be $16.80 per hour, with a start date to be determined as she is still working with the county’s criminal justice planning department.