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Sanders seeks funding for drug court program

NATCHEZ — With state funding cuts slashing local drug court budgets, Adams County Drug Court Judge Lillie Blackmon Sanders is looking to Adams and other counties to keep the court operating.

At the request of Sanders, the Adams County Board of Supervisors agreed to provide $40,000 for the county’s portion of the adult drug court budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year beginning Sept. 1. The amount is a $4,000 increase from the $36,000 the county budgeted for the current fiscal year.

The Drug Court Advisory Committee voted in June to cut overall funding of Mississippi drug courts by 42 percent, or nearly $3.3 million, for the upcoming fiscal year.

The cuts went into effect July 1, the start of the state’s new fiscal year.

Participants in drug court programs must undergo intensive, long-term treatment and counseling and must make frequent court appearances. When they complete the programs, charges against them may be reduced or set aside entirely. Adams County offers adult, youth and family drug court.

Sanders told the board Monday that the cuts would mean only $75,000 in state funding next year, down from the $129,000 the court received this fiscal year.

County Administrator Joe Murray said after the meeting, however, that he believes the court received $113,000.

The board voted last week to give approximately $13,000 to the youth drug court — which also saw state cuts — to tide it over until it receives grant funding.

Sanders could not give the board an amount adult drug court may need to operate until Sept. 1, the start of the county’s fiscal year. Murray said, however, the court may not need additional funding if fines are collected at the rate they were last year.

Supervisor Mike Lazarus said the state funding cuts put the county in a tight spot, especially when every department seems to need more local money every year.

“When the state cuts your money, it’s OK, but when we cut your money, we look like the bad guy,” he told Sanders.

Lazarus suggested Sanders talk to legislators in an attempt to get more funding for drug court.

Sanders said she has personally talked to legislators to figure out why no money was appropriated by the legislature this year.

“They have said, ‘I thought we funded y’all,’” Sanders said. “Someone thought they reintroduced a bill (for funding), but there was a dispute … and some way or another it never made it through.

“Now the state has told us $4.8 million has to be divided (among) all of the (state’s) drug courts.”

Sanders told the board that drug court serves as an alternative to jail for its participants, and thus saves the county money.

“We’re saving the state and the county money by keeping them out of jail,” she said.

All but five of the court’s 67 participants are employed, Sanders said, which is a requirement of the program.

Sanders said she has met with the members of the Wilkinson County Board of Supervisors, who she said are waiting to hear how much funding Adams County will provide for the court. Wilkinson County, she said, would then make a decision on how much funding it will provide.

The court program serves Adams, Wilkinson, Amite and Franklin counties.

A counselor for the court travels to Wilkinson County once a week.

Sanders said the court has one participant from Amite and one from Franklin.

Amite, she said, has refused to provide funding.

The county is also looking into how much funding it appropriates for Southwest Mental Health, a court partner.

Adult Drug Court Director Flavis Wiley said the mental health services provider has discontinued services the county utilized in the past, including shutting down a treatment center in Brookhaven.

Murray asked that Wiley look into what services have been discontinued so the county can reevaluate its $77,000 annual appropriation for the services.

“If they are discontinuing services … why are we going to keep appropriating money to them?” Murray said.

Murray said the county might also be able to find some wiggle room in the budget by making cuts, such as a $2,200 annual rental fee for a copier for the court.

Murray suggested that the county purchase a regular desktop copier for a few hundred dollars that the court could use to get by. Sanders said she had no problem with that.

In other news from the meeting:

• A motion made by Lazarus to formally ask a Dunbar Road resident why the resident took timber from a public right-of-way died for lack of a second. The motion came at the request of Dunbar Road resident Lynn Wirtz.

County Attorney Scott Slover said he has not been able to find any law that what the resident did was illegal.