The Letcher County Fiscal Court has agreed to fund at least temporarily a “drug court” program for juveniles that is being discontinued by the state.
The court voted unanimously at its May meeting on Monday to amend the county’s 2010-11 operating budget to include funding for the salary of coordinator for the Letcher District Court’s Juvenile Drug Program, which allows teenagers charged with drug crimes to be ordered into treatment and counseling instead of jail.
The drug court coordinator position was to scheduled to be eliminated in January, and Letcher County Attorney Harold Bolling asked the fiscal court to provide $30,000 to continue funding the position through June 30, 2011.
“We’ve got to have a drug court coordinator because she is the person who keeps the day-to-day activities of the program going,” said Bolling. “She is the critical component of getting the business done.”
The juvenile drug court coordinator supervises participants’ probations and curfews, conducts drug screens and checks attendance rates.
Kelley Neace, who has been employed as the juvenile drug court coordinator since July 2008, said drug court plays an important role in educating children about the dangers of abusing illegal substances.
“Our main purpose solely is to try to get the kids before they become addicted and teach them prevention,” said Neace. “We see a lot of kids because their friends are doing it or they are holding it for someone else.”
Currently there are 16 juveniles involved in drug court and Bolling said five more are about to start the program.
Letcher District Judge Kevin R. Mullins said responsibilities usually handled by the drug court coordinator could be switched to volunteers with the program to pick up the slack.
“We are going to find a way to make it continue if that means placing more responsibility on myself and others who volunteer with this program. It’s a good program,” said Mullins.
The juvenile drug court program began in Letcher County six years ago at the urging of the late District Judge Jim Wood.
Those who were instrumental in getting the program started attended federal training in Washington D.C., Atlanta, Ga. and Charleston, S.C. in 2004. The group consisted of Wood, Bolling, Connie Fields, Sandy Hogg from the Letcher County Public School System, former Whitesburg Police Chief Scott Adams, Mike Watts, Letcher District Court’s designated worker for juveniles, the late Bill Clemons, a public defender, and Kristy Jackson, a juvenile drug court coordinator.
“They didn’t have a model for the program so we wrote the original drug court protocol for it,” said Bolling. “Everything is designed to keep those kids off drugs.”
“It’s the most positive program I’ve seen in years,” said Bolling. “It’s absolutely critical. It helps young people with drug problems and is designed to keep the child in school and out of jail. There are some sanctions (punishment for infractions) but it doesn’t interfere with them getting their education. Consider (the cost savings realized by) keeping kids out of detention and keeping them in school. But if we don’t continue this program, I guaranteed the kids will be in detention. This is the brightest spot I’ve seen, early intervention.”
Bolling asked the court to commit to fund the remainder of program costs for FY 2010–2011, which he estimated to be $30,000. District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming said he felt it would be foolish to discard a program that successfully treats drug problems at an early stage and pointed to the high costs of incarcerating juveniles as well as the high cost adult offenders place on society. Bolling and Fleming both said they hope to see corporate donations and other financial arrangements made for future funding.
“We can’t afford not to continue this program,” said Fleming. “You catch it at an early age and you can save a fortune in future costs. It’s a shame it’s being discontinued but we have to fund this. It’s that important. I move we amend the budget and ask the Judge to hunt for a way to provide up to $30,000.”
Judge/Executive Jim Ward said he is enthusiastic about continuing the program and will do all he can to provide the funding, but he also expressed his disgust with the state for cutting funding and for forcing unfunded mandates on counties already strapped by state financial mismanagement. Ward said this is just another example of the state pulling funding on a successful program or instituting programs it only funds temporarily and then passes the costs on to county governments.
“We need to fund this,” said Ward. “But it aggravates me that every time we turn around we have to pick up where the state has dropped funding. I’m for it, but it’s aggravating that the state can’t see the benefits and ends the program. I will support it and will see it funded, but the state seems to be more willing to see people incarcerated. I second the motion.”
District Four Magistrate Keith Adams beat Ward to the draw on seconding the motion, but Ward said he would go over the budget and find places where he could manage the extra $30,000. District Three Magistrate Codell Gibson said that if extending the program kept one young person away from a life of drug addiction, it would be well worth the cost. Ward agreed, but said the state needs to look “outside the box” instead of just dropping successful programs when money gets tight.
In other business, the court heard the first reading of a proposed $8,556,902 budget for Fiscal Year 2010–2011. In a related matter, County Treasurer Phillip Hampton praised the court for the manner in which it is handling reductions in state funding and coal severance tax receipts. However, Hampton cautioned the court about the failure of the Kentucky General Assembly to reach a budget agreement for the next year.
“You should finish the year in very good shape,” said Hampton. “I hear about surrounding counties having layoff s, but we’re in great financial shape. There are still questions regarding the state budget, but we are in good shape.”
Kentucky Heritage Artist Doug Adams accompanied Letcher County Tourism Chairman Dr. David Narramore to the meeting and presented a drawing of a signature “totem” for the Tourism Center, representing the heritage, resources, and patriotism of Letcher County and designed to create interest in tourists to further explore the county. Adams said the mild steel structure will be composed of old tools and machine parts as well as the other items, and will be symbolic of times past. He said it will have a figure on top that will rotate in the wind to represent the tremendous talent that lies within the county.
Narramore also reported that the Tourism Commission has approved requests for $1,000 each from several county festivals — Riverside Days in Whitesburg, the Cumberland Mountain Arts and Crafts Festival in Jenkins, and the Jenkins Homecoming Days Festival. He said the total cost of Doug Adams’s work for the tourism building will be $12,000 and asked the court’s permission to use $6,000 in tourism funds with the remainder to be paid by donations from county businesses.
Narramore also asked the court to allocate $2,662.75 from tourism funds to pay off the remainder of the Tourism Building (the former Whitesburg U.S. Post Office) loan, and an additional $2,500 to use as matching funds for a $10,000 grant from the Brushy Fork Institute to “Develop a Strategy to Leverage Technology Assets.” Narramore said the grant will put Letcher County Tourism at “the cutting edge of technology.”
Patricia Lewis and Jim Elkins of the Hazard Veterans Affairs Clinic visited the court and told members that the new agency is a fully-staff ed medical clinic located at the Black Gold Shopping Center on the Hazard Bypass in the old Walmart building. Lewis said the clinic has a doctor, nurses for primary care, and a mental health worker, and will refer veterans for specialty care to other centers. She said the clinic does laboratory work in addition to primary care, and provides mental health counseling, sleep therapy, and flu shots, and has a social worker to help veterans with benefits. The clinic has a 24-hour phone line and also treats female veterans. The telephone number is (606) 436-2350.
In response to a question from Magistrate Fleming, who is a Vietnam veteran, Lewis said the clinic also off ers treatment for post traumatic stress disorder. She said the clinic get mostly Vietnam and World War II veterans, but it is starting to see more current veterans from the First Gulf War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fleming said he was concerned that younger veterans aren’t taking advantage of veterans’ clinics to get medical care. Fleming praised the VA and said that a lot of Letcher County veterans use the Norton, Va., clinic as well.
“Our motto is ‘They served us. Now we serve them’,” said Lewis