Westminster holds key to drug task force plan

August 10, 1994|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Sun Staff Writer

An auditor from outside the county government would go over the Carroll County Narcotics Task Force's finances each year under a tentative new operating agreement.

But that agreement can't become final until the city of Westminster deals itself in -- as it has been for the four years of the task force's existence -- or out, as city officials threatened last month after learning that the county commissioners planned to stop giving Westminster a percentage of proceeds from seized property sales.

Commissioner Elmer Lippy has a proposed solution ready to lay on the table when Westminster representatives meet with the commissioners and delegates from the offices of the state's attorney, attorney general, sheriff and state police.

No meeting date has been set.

Westminster's participation and possible financial share are the only major unresolved points in the new agreement that describes the responsibilities of the agencies represented in the task force, Commissioners Lippy and Donald I. Dell confirmed yesterday.

Mr. Dell said State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman and Assistant State's Attorney Barton F. Walker III proposed the annual audit by an outside agency.

The county government has had its in-house auditor working for 16 months to analyze the drug task force's finances.

The audit was finished in July. The commissioners have not released it to the public, but they have said it shows no financial improprieties on the part of the task force.

The new tentative operating agreement will divide responsibility for seized property.

Westminster Police Chief Sam R. Leppo, who had handled the task force's evidence, property and finances since its inception, abandoned those duties in June. He said the additional work generated by the county audit forced him to give up the responsibility.

The new proposal calls for the county government to store seized vehicles recovered by the task force. Sheriff John Brown's department would handle evidence and other seized property until it could be transported to a drug task force storage site in Columbia.

The agreement gives the county commissioners control of the task force's finances. The commissioners would approve its annual budget and authorize special-purpose expenditures from a stolen-property fund.

Mr. Lippy said he plans to propose scrapping an old clause that gave Westminster 50 percent of proceeds from seized property sales. Instead, the city would be reimbursed on the basis of its actual expenses related to the drug task force.

"Our fear is that we could get a real $2 million bust and then Westminster's share under the old agreement would be $1 million," Mr. Lippy said. He said that a percentage also might yield the city much less than its actual expenses.

The commissioners asked Westminster in late July to designate one representative to meet with them and the other participating agencies, but city officials responded with four: Mayor W. Benjamin Brown, Council President Kenneth A. Yowan, Councilwoman Rebecca A. Orenstein, who chairs the police committee, and Chief Leppo.

Mr. Yowan said he would like to look at the audit report before the meeting and that he didn't see any urgency in a session to work out an agreement.

"In fact, I really question how much of what we do now is going to be valid following the November election," he said. "A lot of things could change with the county and the city."

Mr. Dell and Mr. Lippy are seeking re-election. Mr. Brown and Ms. Orenstein are running for county commissioner, and City Councilman Stephen R. Chapin Sr. is running for the state House of Delegates.

Ms. Orenstein said she would like to see the commissioners' proposed agreement before discussing it.

"I think Westminster has an obligation to participate in the drug task force," she said, adding that the council also must consider finances in its decision.

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