County Attorney Ed Ormsby is pictured at the County Courthouse in 2020. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.

County Counsel Ed Ormsby’s fees were considered by County Council Thursday during the County Commissioners Cumulative Capital Development Budget hearing.

For 2020 spent, legal services were listed at $ 57,788. The budget passed in 2021 listed legal services at $ 58,000, while the requested budget for 2022 listed $ 131,000 for legal services.

Councilor Jon Garber asked Commissioner Cary Groninger and County Administrator Marsha McSherry, “How can he justify that $ 76,000? I know he sent a letter explaining this, but he’s got a year under his belt “and some of those things he did in 2021 won’t be needed in 2022.

“Okay,” Groninger replied. “I know we’re working on it. I know (commissioner) Brad (Jackson) is in charge of this. I don’t have all the details, but I don’t want to talk about something I’m not involved in. I know we’ve had several conversations to make sure we’re not spending more than we need to. “

He said the problem is, “a lot has happened here. Not only the change of attorney, but the COVID policies and everything that is going on, we’ve had multiple lawsuits. There are just a lot more legal services that are required right now, just the complexity of the COVID world. But, I know Ed and Brad have had meetings, and I know I’ve had a phone call or two. I know we’re trying to get to where we can reduce that.

Groninger said other county departments are calling on Ormsby for services and it’s not just the commissioners.

“But, in general, it’s just one of those things that is a much more contentious world than before,” he said. “But I wholeheartedly understand your concerns. “

Ormsby became a county attorney on January 1, 2020, after former county attorney Chad Miner was elected a judge. Groninger said Ormsby agreed to the same contract the county had with Miner regarding cost per hour and normal meeting times, but “so it’s like anything that goes outside of that, that adds a cost to that, whether it’s other departments or other projects that as you go along keep adding hours.

Groninger said, in fairness, Miner was “very, very nice to the county” from a billing standpoint and that he would do more volunteer work for the county.

Councilor Kimberly Cates asked, “But doesn’t the contract include the same, the same hours, and then bill by the hour on top of the contract?” “

Groninger said yes, then Cates said, “So what you’re saying is the same job as the previous lawyer, with the exact same contract, not including overtime, as this new contract, and that. is more than twice for these same times and actions? “

Groninger said the contract has not changed, but “those are all things outside of what was originally part of this contract.”

“Okay, but doesn’t he bill this separately on top of that?” Cates asked.

“Well, that’s part of it. All of that overtime is in that number, ”Groninger said. “Everything is paid for from the same bucket.

In a June 9 email from Ormsby to Jackson and forwarded by Ormsby to Commissioners and McSherry regarding his fee estimate for 2022, Ormsby wrote that until May 2021 he had 317.30 hours of billable time at- beyond fixed-price contractual services. There were 21 weeks in that time frame, so he averages 15.11 billable hours per week. “During the transition from the position of Advocate General from Chad to me, the estimate of Chad’s total hours per week was 10 to 15. The current experience of billable hours has therefore been higher than this estimate. He wrote.

Ormsby said he spoke with Miner to compare Miner’s work with what Ormsby is doing now. He said the difference between his services to date and previous legal services is likely due to Ormsby “keeping up to date with outstanding issues and current practices through research and meetings regarding various departments.” ; communications with state legislators regarding matters relevant to the county; “Some departments have had a little more interaction and use of the county attorney than in the past”; more special projects during this period than is likely normal, including things like Constitutional Sanctuary County, Second Amendment Sanctuary County, COVID-19 vaccine passports, and COVID-19 work and other grants available for the county; his representational style may be a little more proactive than past service; and Miner believed he had undercharged his hours at the county in the past “by a lot”.

Based on that, Ormsby’s email says he believes average billable hours “should decrease” by a few hours per week in the future, as there will likely be fewer special projects and fewer transition issues. He said he started implementing a more streamlined process where possible, such as working with the health department so that he could issue his own opinions and cover letters instead of asking a lawyer to do it.

Ormsby wrote: “I think the ‘normalized’ billable hours beyond contracted services for next year will be between 10 and 12.5 hours per week. Accordingly, I suggest that the county attorney’s legal fees budget for 2022 bet between $ 128,555 (10h / week x 50 weeks x $ 200 / h + $ 28,555 contract services) and $ 153,555 (12.5 hours / week x 50 weeks x $ 200 / h. + $ 28,555 for contractual services).

Council approved CCD’s budget 6-0, excluding legal services, so more information on how the county might be able to reduce that figure could be gathered.