Task forces lose federal dollars

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Drug task forces throughout the state of Ohio are at risk with the decrease in funds from the federal budget for the new fiscal year.

“The federal funds go to the Office of Criminal Justice Services,” said Lawrence County Sheriff Tim Sexton. “We are already funded for this year.”

The Lawrence County Prosecutor’s Office and the sheriff’s office have to match 25 percent of the grant funds.

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Lawrence Drug and Major Crime Task Force has applied for a grant for fiscal year 2008 and it is seeking an increase to $80,000, the maximum it can receive. That’s $37,000 more than 2007, but Sexton said that’s not nearly enough.

The association wants the Ohio Legislature to add a $5 fee to court costs for traffic violations like speeding.

Ohio Rep. Tom Patton, R-Strongsville, proposed the fee, which he says could raise $6 million to $7 million and allow existing task forces to expand their operations.

The legislation could hit a snag, though, because the Ohio Supreme Court is considering the fairness of filing fees and court costs throughout the state, and lawmakers may be reluctant to tack on new fees while the issue is still undecided.

Drug task forces received $5 million in federal funding in 2000, but those funds have shrunk to just $1.2 million this fiscal year. Without a financial boost, the state could lose about 40 percent of its 26 task force teams, said Hylton Baker, president of the Ohio Task Force Commanders Association.

“We need to address the problems more aggressively, and to do that we need more money and we need more manpower,” Sexton said. “One of the biggest (problems) in Lawrence County is the prescription drug abuse.”

He suggests that in order to get more funding, people should write to state representatives and senators to encourage them to find a solution to fund the drug task force.

“We’re doing the best we can,” Sexton said. “The only funding mechanism as far as I know that has been discussed by the legislation is the $5 additional fee. I would suggest they write to our representatives and ask them to support such a fee.”

Since 2001, task forces statewide have confiscated about 700,000 marijuana plants, 64,700 pounds of marijuana and 1,600 pounds of cocaine.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.