Clermont County officials, as well as county officials around the nation, are hoping that a recent discussion with national legislative assistants will result in more federal funding for drug prevention programs.
In Clermont County, the multi-jurisdictional drug task force is faced with a range of possible futures, ranging from continued service or expanded service if funding is increased, to potentially severe cuts if the funding stream remains dry.
“Things are still in limbo at the state and federal level,” said Sheriff Tim Rodenberg. “In the Ohio House, there is a measure that may go forward to provide money for drug task forces. Basically, it would add five dollars in fines to moving traffic violations. It’s questionable if it will be enacted, but it’s at least moving forward. We probably won’t have any final word on that until the fall.”
Recently, Clermont County Commissioner Bob Proud represented a national association of counties in talks with congressional aids concerning drug issues. Proud said that much of the conversation centered around lobbying for the return of drug task force funding.
Proud said that the message was, we're doing our part, now do yours. Each year, counties across the nation set aside large chunks of their budgets to help fund drug units, which were started at the urging of the federal government, before the government pulled that funding for homeland security usage instead.
"Close to $50 billion a year is appropriated for criminal justice, so the counties have stepped up to the plate," said Proud. "When the federal government started funding for this, we bought into it. Now, it's established and working, so don't cut our legs from under us now. The federal government needs to do their part."
The drug task force represents officers from the Clermont sheriff's department, along with officers from the Union and Miami townships' police departments and the Milford police department. It is a dedicated entity within the county to sniffing out drug issues, finding labs, busting distributors and preventing the influx of illegal drugs into the county.
"We're hopeful that one of these will be successful, because if not, our drug unit and many throughout Ohio will have a bleak future," said Sheriff Rodenberg. "It will only be a matter of time until they are out of business, as the funding used to come from other sources. At one time, our drug unit here was funded to the tune of almost a quarter million dollars through federal grants. Then it was reduced to $170,000, last year it was about $80,000, and this year about $50,000. It's gradually been whittled away due to homeland security issues and the war."
Noting that homeland security starts at home, Sheriff Rodenberg said that the issue is definitely one of local importance. Keeping drugs out of local communities helps in many ways to ensure their safety and security, he said, but even that comes at a cost.
"It can cost anywhere from $300,000 to $350,000 a year to operate the drug unit," said Sheriff Rodenberg. "That's everything; salaries, equipment, office space, radios, cars, phones, utilities, buy money and investigative expenses for buying drugs or paying informants. We also have Milford and Miami Township and Union Township, who provide us an agent or officer each, and they cover that cost, so we have three officers in there free of charge to the drug unit. Without the parent agencies paying for that, it would be extremely difficult. We absolutely have to have outside money to keep our drug unit operating at the level we have, or else we'll have to seriously curtail things, probably starting next year, which wouldn't be a good thing for our community."
In the past, however that cost has paid off. Clermont County has long been a leader in finding illegal drug activities, such as methamphetamine labs. In fact, the county has been a state leader in the number of labs found, which Proud said is actually a good thing. He's hoping that the recent discussions will lead to the reinstatement of $1.1 billion in drug prevention funding.
"They consider me to be an expert on meth," said Proud. "In Clermont County, we have been either number one or two in Ohio counties for several years in the amount of meth labs found. I'm proud of that, because it doesn't mean we have more than anyone else, but that we've found them. How did we find them? Through our drug task force. That's why the funding is so critical."