Forfeitures to temporarily fund drug task force

Published 1:07 am Thursday, October 6, 2016

The 22nd Judicial Task Force now has a short-term solution in place to protect the agency from folding, despite having lost its grant funding.

Covington County Commission Chairman Bill Godwin on Monday received a letter from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) notifying the county it did not receive a grant for the task force.

DTF funding has been declining for several years.

In the 2016 fiscal year, which ended last week, the DTF received a $50,000 grant, which was a number that had been steadily declining. The grant was for $265,000 in 2009; in 2010 and 2011 it decreased to $132,165; for 2012 it was $98,000; in 2013 it was $64,214; and $50,000 in 2014.

Additionally, the county and cities of Andalusia and Opp have already been paying the salaries of four DTF agents.

The projected budget for the budget year 2017 is $32,442.

That includes:

  • $4,200 for rent;
  • $4,800 for electricity;
  • $470 for water and sewer;
  • $375 for garbage;
  • $170 for pest control;
  • $1,500 for basic phone;
  • $549 for Internet;
  • $372 for PO Box rental;
  • $500 miscellaneous expenses;
  • $4,000 for office supplies;
  • $15,506 for salaries.

The grant was paying for an administrative assistant.

Andalusia Police Chief Paul Hudson told Sheriff Dennis Meeks, who chairs the DTF board, that he had sat down with Andalusia Mayor Earl Johnson.

Hudson said that Johnson asked him to find out the cost effectiveness of the DTF and how it benefits Andalusia to be part of the countywide task force.

Hudson said they wanted to know how many of the cases were self-generated by the DTF and how many were adopted from patrol units.

Opp Police Chief Mike McDonald asked for similar documentation, including how many cases were worked in each municipality.

McDonald said that he had spoken with Rep. Mike Jones, who is supposed to talk to ADECA and get an explanation of the grading process on the grant.

“I didn’t know our performance was down that much,” he said.

Hudson said they needed to get the score sheets to see where the mistakes were made in the grant

“We need to get it in our hands,” he said.

District Attorney Walt Merrell said he had a temporary plan that would allow the cities of Opp and Andalusia and the county commission as well as any smaller town who would wish to pledge money to the DTF, to have time to decide what funding they can contribute.

Merrell said that he, Investigator Brett Holmes and Drug Task Force Prosecutor Emmett Massey had spoken to ADECA and learned that they could use any asset forfeiture money that was already in their account of that was fully adjudicated for things such as rent.

Merrell said he would not disclose how much money was in that fund.

Additionally, Merrell said without compromising ongoing litigation, there were also two asset forfeitures with decent sums of money and property that should come behind the grant.

Merrell said this would give the DTF some means of maintaining operations while giving time for information gathering necessary.

Meeks said the task force wasn’t going to shut down or close its doors.

Merell first asked that the board postpone several items on its agenda, including approval of minutes, then moved that the board meet in closed session. Merrell said he wanted to close the meeting protect the “good name and character.” It is unclear whose good name and character the closed session was used to protect.

The board did not reconvene into regular session.