John Somonick

Folks climbing the stairs between floors in the Indiana County Court House will have far fewer moments of tension and mystery and a greatly reduced risk of bumps and embarrassment with the completion of one of the phases of the county’s ESCO improvement project. The building’s solid wood panel doors, in place on the stairwells since its construction 50 years ago, have been replaced with doors with window panels that enable stair climbers, such as John Somonick, of White Township, to see people on the other side before the doors swing open and close. When completed, the county’s ESCO energy-efficiency project, under management of The Efficiency Network, of Pittsburgh, is expected to reduce the electric, gas and water bills at the courthouse and other county buildings by $300,000 a year.

A team of lawyers was retained Wednesday to represent parties in family custody cases under Indiana County Children & Youth Services.

The Indiana County board of commissioners approved legal counsel agreements between CYS and local attorneys Erica Dussault, of Clymer; Gina Ryen-Force, of Indiana; and Katrina Kayden, of Indiana, for legal service in the 2019-20 fiscal year.

Under a new contract, Dussault will be assigned as a legal counsel for parents in dependency matters at a rate of $55 an hour but no more than $1,750 a month, said Terrence Redd of CYS.

Ryen-Force also will represent parents in dependency cases at $1,750 a month, the same rate as the past year, and Kayden, under a renewed agreement, will represent parents in cases at that same rate.

Along with the attorneys’ contracts, the commissioners approved renewals of private provider agreements between the county and Alice Paul House, Adelphoi Education Services for non-placement services and Harborcreek Youth Services for placement services provided on an as-needed basis to ICCYS.

In other business, the commissioners approved a shift of $25,100 between line items in the budget for the 2015 HOME Program of the Accessibility/Modification Rehabilitation Program.

The revenue-neutral change reduces the “project delivery” line item and increases the “moderate rehab” category by that amount.

The commissioners also adopted a proclamation that declares August as Child Support Enforcement Awareness Month in Indiana County.

“This deals with a phase of Indiana County that many people don’t really understand, and that’s domestic relations and making sure that child support is being enforced,” Commissioner Rodney Ruddock said.

The proclamation marks the 44th anniversary of the child support enforcement program and acknowledges the roles of parents, judges, health care professionals, advocacy groups and employers in the effectiveness of the programs.

“Whereas the Pennsylvania Child Support Enforcement Program enrolled 6,455 non-custodial parents in Career Link, with 2,479 of these parents finding gainful employment that provided over $900,000 to approximately 3,900 children in May 2019,” Ruddock read.

“That’s a pretty significant piece of this proclamation,” he added. “That is the reason that we want to get people into the work assignment, particularly those who have responsibilities to take care of their families. It is working.”

Darren Divido, executive director of Indiana County Domestic Relations Section, said the proclamation serves to clarify the agency’s mission.

“A lot of people have the impression that we’re really just about taking your money away and things like that, when the reality is that we’re trying to educate people around their responsibilities as well as providing job opportunities,” Divido said.

“We’re proud of the job-search program we have for our clients. We put a great emphasis on that, we have staff specifically available to do that and foster those programs.

“Indiana County’s contribution to those statistics in the proclamation is an 84 percent collection rate on our cases and an 81 percent collection rate on those that are past due. … We encourage people to come in and talk to us and see our office so we can educate them on what we do.”

Staff writer/Web Editor, The Indiana (Pa.) Gazette

Staff Writer/Web Editor

Chauncey Ross represents the Gazette at the Indiana Area and Homer-Center school boards and White Township, Center Township, Homer City and Burrell Township, and is something of an Open Records, Right to Know and Sunshine Law advocate in the newsroom.