A large quorum of state, city and county officials met in Gadsden on Monday to discuss the Etowah County Drug Enforcement Units need of a permanent funding solution – the big task at hand is to find a solution or all operations will cease to be effective.
The unit’s budget has gone from just over $800,000 in 2011, to $665,000 for the current year – with those funds being provided through local revenue, grants and the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.
The largest portion of the shortfall comes from a decline in ADECA Funding dropping from $225,000 to $72,000.
As a result of the cuts the Unit has reduced its staff by 15 percent and cut operational expenses by some 20 percent – the entire vehicle fleet is also in need of maintenance, however the number of cases the department works has only slightly declined by 5 percent and officers have been averaging around 825 felony cases per year.
Officers are also facing a large spike in the amount of inexpensive, high grade heroin and methamphetamine begin brought into the area from Mexico along with crack cocaine and a rise in synthetic marijuana being marketed by teens in addition to a rise in prescription drug abuse.
Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin, Harp and DEU Commander Rob Savage, met with State Sen. Phil Williams (R-Rainbow City) and State Reps. Mack Butler (R-Rainbow City) and Becky Nordgren (R-Gadsden).
Southside Mayor Wally Burns, Etowah County Commission Chairwoman Carolyn Parker and Commissioners Tim Choate and Kenney Tidmore were also in attendance, along with county CEO Patrick Simms.
The group discussed several possible solutions, some related to the county’s 1-cent sales tax earmarked for capital improvements. Simms noted that Etowah County does not levy a tax on non-cigarette tobacco products. Harp said several neighboring counties fund law enforcement projects through a wholesale alcohol tax.
Other officials discussed gaining more federal funding for drug cases crossing state lines. However, the task force already relies on Byrne Memorial Fund grants at the federal level, where funding can fluctuate wildly from year to year.
Funding drug task forces is a statewide issue though. There are 28 units operating currently where there were 33 just four years ago.
Officials said they plan to meet again and have some kind of preliminary plan by January. But Entrekin said some solution needs to come together soon.
Information provided by Al.com