Drug task force grant falls short

By CHRISTINE BOATWRIGHT / Staff Writer

Gov. Robert Bentley has awarded a grant to the county to help combat the trafficking and sale of illegal drugs, yet the grant is only about two-thirds of last year’s amount.

The $139,506 grant, which supports the Shelby County Drug Enforcement Task Force, is a reduction from last year’s $220,000 grant.

“It’s a reduction from last year’s grant, but it was expected to be a reduction due to economic status of the country and all that,” Drug Task Force Commander Lt. Kevin Turner said. “We were expecting a reduction, but it was a little more than we expected.”

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is administering the grant from funds made available by the U.S. Department of Justice, according to a press release from the governor’s office.

The task force uses the funding to reimburse law enforcement officers’ salaries from partnering agencies. In years past, the grant has always paid 100 percent of the reimbursement, but the task force is unable to pay the full amount this year, according to Turner. The funding does not pay for any of the Sheriff’s Office investigators.

“The Sheriff’s Office has been paying salaries off the (personnel) line item from the inception of (the task force),” Turner said. “It’s important to the sheriff to get agencies on board to increase manpower.”

After meeting with the task force’s board of directors, which is comprised of police chiefs from participating agencies, Turner said participating cities, including Alabaster, Pelham and Helena, have not been affected by the lack of funding.

However, the cities have not had to contribute to the task force officers’ salaries in the past due to the ADECA grant funding. The cities will fund less than half of the officers’ salaries, Turner said.

“In reality, that’s still cheap for having somebody on board (the task force). You’re losing one investigator to the task force permanently, but gaining a whole squad of people to concentrate on the drug problem with the city,” Turner said.

As a requirement of the ADECA grant, the Shelby County Commission will supplement the grant with 25-percent matching funds of $46,502. Instead of paying a “hard dollar match” to ADECA, the commission uses the salary amount paid to Sheriff’s Office personnel on the task force as the match, County Finance Manager Butch Burbage said.

The task force is comprised of nine law enforcement officers from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, Alabaster Police, Helena Police and Pelham Police, as well as a full time prosecutor from the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office and an operations assistant from the county commission.