The state can hold local elected officials accountable if victim assistance funds are improperly used. It is the local elected officials’ responsibility to ensure the municipality complies with state law.
Elected officials have an important role to play in carrying out the state mandate articulated in the state Victims of Crime Act. Crime victims are to be “honored and protected by law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and judges in a manner no less vigorously than the protections afforded criminal defendants.” The Act along with the Victim Bill of Rights defines the specific rights and services extended to crime victims.
All municipalities with a police department must provide victim assistance services. The city can provide these services directly or contract with an approved service provider, including another law enforcement agency such as the county sheriff’s department.
“Municipalities with limited staff resources or other limitations for directly providing victim services or programs should consider contracting with another entity,” advised Eric Budds, Municipal Association deputy executive director. “A properly constructed and executed service contract, approved by the State Office of Victim Assistance, transfers the responsibility and liabilities for victim services to the contractor.”
The municipality’s first responsibility is to notify crime victims, whose case will be decided in municipal court, of their rights as a victim. This includes the right to be present and participate in all hearings, be represented by counsel, pursue civil remedies, and submit an oral or written victim impact statement, or both, for the summary court judge to consider.
Another responsibility is providing victim support services, which is generally performed by a victim’s advocate(s).
To pay for these responsibilities, the state allows municipalities to keep 11.16 percent of the 107.5 assessment on court fines. (See related story.) The municipality can use the revenue only for direct expenses related to notifying victims of their rights and providing victim support services/program. The South Carolina Municipal Court Handbook, has a detailed list of authorized expenditures.
The municipality must submit its annual budget to SOVA within 30 days of adoption. The adopted budget must specifically identify victim service revenue and expenditures. The funds must be capable of being traced through the financial system.
The Municipal Association recommends using a separate self-balancing account within the budget, called a special revenue fund, to segregate funds properly and allow for tracking.
State law requires municipalities carry forward any unused victim assistance funds each year and to use the revenue exclusively for providing victim services.
“It can be tempting to use accumulated victim service fund revenue, especially during difficult financial times, for cash flow or other unapproved expenditures,” cautioned Budds. “However, it is illegal to use this money for any purpose not directly related to providing victim programs or services.” The state will require the municipality to repay all funds to the victim services account and potentially assess a penalty.
Recently, the General Assembly expanded the State Office of Victim Assistance’s enforcement authority to perform audits. If SOVA finds an error, the governmental entity has 90 days to correct the problem. If not done within the specified time period, SOVA will assess a penalty.
SOVA’s audits have focused not only on the eligibility of expenditures but also on whether the expenditure exclusively supported victim’s assistance programs or services. As a result of SOVA’s increased emphasis, governmental entities in South Carolina reimbursed more than $700,000 in unauthorized expenditures to victim funds last year.
As an example, an entity purchases a piece of equipment with victim assistance funds. The equipment is used equally for victim service delivery and routine police patrol. SOVA likely would rule 50 percent of the expenditure was ineligible and the ineligible amount must be reimbursed to the victim assistance fund.Proper-accounting-for-court-revenue.aspx