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April 19, 2012

HARBESON: More fun with fees

SELLERSBURG — Last week, while discussing the recent State Board of Accounts audit report for Clark County Superior Court No. 3, I focused on Judge Steven Fleece’s disagreement with the SBOA that no users were inappropriately charged user fees. This week I want to focus on Fleece’s disagreement with another SBOA contention — that the funds were also spent inappropriately.

As he did in his previous response, Fleece pulled out his dictionary. This time Fleece used the dictionary to broaden the interpretation of the word “intervention” so he could make the case that it was valid to expand drug and alcohol fund expenditures on prevention.

This was important because Fleece wanted to defend “the subsidy of youth sports leagues.” Government officials were “donating” drug and alcohol program user fee funds to sports organizations under the assumption that they prevent drug and alcohol abuse.

This brings up lots of questions, one being what about the many, many other youth activities available? And why only team sports? What about sports that focus on individual accomplishments like running, Karate or rock climbing?

Clearly the decision to broaden the scope in order to justify spending money on such items creates difficulties because it ends up with government officials favoring some groups over others. In addition, it is difficult if not impossible to provide evidence that any of these activities actually provide a direct causation to preventing drug and alcohol abuse, let alone proving that one type is more effective than any other.

After all, we all know that jocks are not conspicuously absent from weekend keggers.

Broadening the scope of this program put government officials in a position where they were “donating” to a “good cause” and since lots of benefits accrue to elected officials who “donate” money that is not their own, it’s easy to see why they would justify boosting the fund by charging user fees to nonusers.

Another troubling aspect of drug and alcohol program expenditures is the spending that was done for the benefit of various government departments. In the 2008 audit report for the County Council, we’ve already learned that government officials deemed it appropriate to spend user funds on new carpeting for judicial offices and in this report there were even more items of interest.

One was binoculars for the Department of Natural Resources. You may be wondering how that relates to the county drug and alcohol program. I don’t know but my guess is that they decided that someone needed to keep an eye out for drunken squirrels in the park.

The second purchase was for a lawn mower, and it’s easier to imagine how that got in there. My guess is that someone mentioned “grass” and when Fleece looked it up in his dictionary, he saw a common slang usage he could use to show a relationship to the drug and alcohol program.

As I read this audit report discussing appropriate spending of funds created for a very specific purpose, I found myself thinking about the recent tornadoes that slammed into Clark County. Many of you donated money to help and took advantage of the choice some organizations offered that allowed you to specify that your donation be directed to that organization’s tornado relief fund.

So, how would you feel if your donation specifically marked for tornado relief was spent on new drapes for offices of the administrators?

How would you feel if the organization you supported used your funds to subsidize a board member’s wind chime club and justified that purchase by saying, “well when we looked up the word ‘tornado’ in the dictionary, we saw that wind is involved. These chimes create sounds when wind blows so we decided to broaden our interpretation of ‘tornado relief’ to include anything that could warn people that wind is blowing.”

Ridiculous? No more so than the government spending drug and alcohol program user fee funds on football equipment.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson says that reading SBOA reports on the drug and alcohol program is driving her to drink. Write her at Debbie@debbieharbeson.com.

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