Officials seek ways to pay for planned drug court

Operating budget shortfall may require varied fund sources

February 22, 2002|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

State's Attorney Marna L. McLendon, County Executive James N. Robey and county drug coordinator Jessie K. Smith all support the idea of establishing a court to handle drug cases in Howard County.

Dozens of county health and justice officials, including Police Chief Wayne Livesay and Health Department Bureau of Addictions Director Marilyn Manson, are behind the project, too.

But a projected $18 million shortfall in the county's operating budget this year means that the many drug court supporters will have to shake grant money from federal funding trees if they hope to get the project off the ground.

"The county will be more prone to go for a drug court if we can get funding for at least part of it," Smith said. Smith was a member of a 24-member work group that spent six months studying the feasibility of a drug court.

The group forwarded its findings - that the county could benefit from a drug court - to Horizon Foundation, which funded the $28,000 feasibility study, at the end of last month. Now, a smaller study group and county officials will determine how to implement a court.

New drug courts normally lean on the federal government to help with start-up costs, said Caroline S. Cooper, director of the Drug Court Clearinghouse and Technical Assistance Program at American University in Washington.

Typically, the federal government infuses about $50 million each year into drug court program grants, which fall under the 1994 Crime Act. The grants can be used for planning, implementation or enhancement.

The biggest grants are earmarked for implementation. The amounts vary, depending on the number of people served by the court, Cooper said, but awards generally range from $200,000 to $400,000.

Howard County is not ready to apply for an implementation grant, but the county did receive federal planning help this year, McLendon said. Representatives from the county attended a workshop last month in Phoenix and will attend two more this year.

"The workshops take you through the steps that get you ready to write a successful grant," McLendon said.

Howard County should be poised for a July 2003 start date, McLendon said, if federal grant money is obtained to help offset initial costs.

Although McLendon said it was too early to calculate the exact cost of a Howard drug court, one estimate puts it at about $456,000.

In addition to federal grants, local jurisdictions usually set aside money from their budgets to fund a drug court, Cooper said.

"Federal money never totally pays for the cost of a drug court," Cooper said. "Funding has to be pieced together from many sources."

Other funding options include charging drug court participants treatment fees and community fund-raisers.

One of the strangest fund-raisers Cooper said she could remember was the Los Angeles drug court clerical staff selling baked goods to people waiting in line to watch the O.J. Simpson trial years ago.

"The idea is to get the community behind the idea, and that's where lots of the money will come from," Cooper said.

Another way to help pay for a drug court involves no money, she said. Many times, a county can reorganize court dockets to make room for the drug court without having to hire new judges or prosecutors, which is what Howard County plans to do, McLendon said.

Howard's biggest costs would be paying the salary of a drug court coordinator and funding treatment services.

McLendon said she would like to see a coordinator in place by July to help with the grant applications and planning.

Ideally, the coordinator would be a full-time county employee with a master's degree. The person's salary would be about $42,000, McLendon said.

Drug court supporters have not approached anyone about funding the position, but the group could ask Robey to include it in the budget or could seek another Horizon Foundation grant.

"We're at a point where we would benefit from having a co- ordinator to move us toward an implementation schedule," McLendon said. "Actually, that's the person who we would like to see write the grants for a drug court."

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