County drug task force awarded $132K

Published 9:18 am Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The three entities that share the county’s drug task force will have to put up more money to match the grants that fund the law enforcement agency this year.

State funding — which had been amplified the past two years by federal disaster assistance — is down from $238,000 last year to $132,000 this year, County Administrator Tony Sanks said.

“We didn’t have (to put up) nearly the match the past two years,” Sanks said.

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Despite the cuts, Escambia County Commission Chairman David Stokes said the funding is welcome and much needed to see the department continue operations — but he said deeper cuts could put the task force in jeopardy.

The Escambia County Commission, along with the Escambia County District Attorney’s office and the Atmore Police Department, share in the funding and staffing of the department. The Brewton Police Department maintains its own narcotics division.

“We are thankful for the funding,” Stokes said. “We have been cut many times since the grants were originally awarded. Our original grants were around $200,000, but we have seen that amount go down every year.”

Stokes said the current grant amount of $130,285 reflects the operating budget of the task force with equal matches with each of the three agencies involved making a contribution to the operating costs.

“There are five employees with the Drug Task Force,” Stokes said. “One employee is from the county, two from the district attorney’s office and two from Atmore. Each of those three agencies makes a contribution to the operating costs based on the number of employees from each office. The district attorney’s office pays a lion’s share of the cost with Atmore second and the county third.”

“When funding was better, the task force was able to operate on its own, Stokes added. “There have been times when we didn’t have to up any matching funds. That’s certainly good when that can happen. But we have in our budget to match up to a certain amount each year. If there comes a time when we would have to put up more money, then we would have to consider whether we can stay in this thing.”

Stokes said the county has funds in the annual budget to accommodate paying a match for the grant, but also has to consider budgets in other areas as well.

“The task force is a great thing and we certainly need it in this county,” Stokes said. “We have to be mindful of other budget items for the county that include our local county law enforcement. We have to consider the entire budget when determining our involvement with those funds.”

Stokes said the current grant will be enough to pull the task force operations through for another year.

“The grant we’ve received will be enough to help make ends meet,” Stokes said. “We have a limit on what we can spend and this grant is most helpful in keeping the unit operating.”

The grant was announced earlier this week by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, which issued the funding. The ADECCA organization awarded grants to similar departments across the state of just over $3 million. The funding is awarded to departments and task force units that combat illegal drugs and drug-related violent crime in Alabama. The funding from ADECCA will support 17 multi-jurisdictional drug and violent crime task forces across the state.

The task forces conduct undercover operations to arrest and prosecute drug offenders, find and dismantle dangerous methamphetamine laboratories and assist with other violent crime investigations.