County backs drug programs
Marinette County will seek grant funding to help in the effort
Tuesday, September 24, 2013 7:00 PM
MARINETTE - Marinette County officials continued to move forward Tuesday with plans to apply for state grants to fund two programs to attack the area's growing drug problem.
The Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee unanimously gave its support to the county seeking funds for Treatment Alternatives Diversion (TAD) and Drug Court programs.
Health and Human Services (HHS) Director Robin Elsner is writing the grant applications with support from Rob Valentine, HHS community services supervisor, and Branch 2 Circuit Court Judge Jim Morrison.
He said the county will seek between $200,000 and $250,000 for the two programs. The state has $1 million available for TAD programs and $500,000 for drug courts.
Morrison said the availability of the grants were announced Aug. 23 at a training session on treatment methods and diversion he attended with Elsner and Valentine. The Department of Justice held a grant writing workshop on Sept. 16 in Marinette.
With the Oct. 17 deadline to submit the applications for the grants less than a month away, it was evident at Tuesday's meeting there still are issues that need to be addressed.
The committee voted to include two more county committees in the planning process - Law Enforcement and Health and Human Services.
Two county officials - District Attorney Allen Brey and Clerk of Courts Linda Dumke-Marquardt - expressed concerns about what additional resources would be needed from their offices, but also said they support the concepts of the programs.
"I have a staffing deficit in my office," Brey said. "I have crimes that have been waiting for more than six months to be reviewed.
"I simply cannot commit myself to more resources for this project. We have no more to give. I would encourage you to apply for the grant, but if I don't get another legal secretary working in my office I am not going to be able to participate in the program."
Brey said the clerk of courts office would need to have a deputy clerk in drug court hearings and someone to handle files for the court and process the $700 fee per person that will be required.
Morrison, who has said he is willing to preside over the drug court, said additional staffing for the two offices would be sought in the grants.
"We're going to apply for money to provide additional support for both these sides," he said. "This just can't be another program to add to their workload."
The committee reviewed flow charts and other information about the drug court and TAD programs in Wood County, which is located in central Wisconsin.
"This is a template," Morrison said. "We can tweak this in a lot of ways. If we get these grants we're going to adopt the best practices that are working throughout the country. So this is just a schematic of where it is likely to go."
He said the two programs would run parallel to one another with a TAD coordinator and TAD committee being key components.
Elsner and Morrison both stressed that violent criminals will not be allowed into the drug court, which the judge said would include tough sanctions in lieu of time in jail or prison.
"People in drug court would be required to work 40 hours a week," Morrison said. "If they can't find a 40-hours a week job, they would be required to do 40 hours a week community service.
"Idle hands are the devil's workshop. This is going to be rough and there will be people this will be offered to who will say no."
Morrison earlier said in an emailed memo the drug court program would also involve daily drug checks, attendance at therapy at least on a weekly basis and an absolute sobriety requirement.
"One of the focuses of the TAD grant is to empty the prison systems and empty the jails of people who aren't a risk to the community and to provide treatment as an alternative to sitting in jail for six months or a year or going to prison," Valentine explained.
Dumke-Marquardt asked what would happen with the new positions established for the program if the grant funding ceases.
"We've been there," she said. "Yes, we can hire somebody under the grant, but when the grant is done that person is done. So then he (Brey) and I would be the same position we are in right now."
Elsner said the grant is for five years, but is only funded right now for two years because the state operates on a biennial budget.
"If we get the grant it would for 2014 and 2015," he said. "It's a five-year grant so we would think we would be funded in 2016 and 2017.
"This is a program the attorney general is behind and politically supports it. There are nine different counties doing it (drug courts) right now. I don't see the funding going away anytime in the near future, especially with (State Rep.) John Nygren (R-Marinette) supporting this process."
Morrison and Elsner both said they're hopeful that eventually the private sector will help fund the programs or that the costs could be included in the county budget.
"The administrator (Ellen Sorensen) and I have talked and Ellen would like to see this sustained after the grant funds run out," Elsner explained. "We're trying to buy ourselves at least two years of state funding and then hopefully migrate to county funding eventually."
"Ellen has said she can get this on the levy in the third or fourth year," Morrison said. "If it works, it will save money.
"It is saving the state right now somewhere around $11 million and $12 million in prison bed costs. We can save jail bed days as well. So there will be real savings there."
Morrison said the county has a "very high likelihood" of getting the grants.
"There's a lot of planning to do and a lot of issues to be raised," he said. "This will take awhile to get done. We have to move forward."