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November 18, 2012

Floyd County Task Force not getting its fair share

Fines being waived or not being collected, officials said, putting grants at risk

NEW ALBANY — When a person is arrested for a drug or alcohol offense in Floyd County, certain fees must be paid as part of their penalty.

There are court costs, but also counter measure fees which are eventually used by the Floyd County Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Task Force for prevention programs through various agencies.

However, when those fees don’t get collected for whatever reason, funds are not distributed for those programs, and since the Floyd County task force is the local coordinating council for the Governor’s Commission for a Drug-Free Indiana, state grants are jeopardized for not being compliant. Those state grants include programs such as Operation Pullover funds.

“We have to submit monthly, quarterly and yearly reports to be in compliance so we can be eligible for state grants,” said Floyd County ATOD Task Force Coordinator Connie Keith.

That was the core of a conversation earlier this week at the ATOD Task Force annual meeting held at the Cancer Center of Indiana in New Albany.

In 2011, the Floyd County Drug-Free Community Fund received $61,210 through offender fees. However, considering the amount of arrests for alcohol and drug crimes, that amount should have been more than $100,000.

Keith pointed to drug and alcohol arrests in Floyd County for the first three months of the year, and on the first page alone, nine defendants did not pay a $200 counter measure fee. Either their fees were being waived or not collected.

“When we do not collect the fees, everyone suffers,” Keith said.

She said she has spent several months going over data and trying to figure out where the funds were going, or if they were being collected. Many times as part of a plea agreement, the counter measure fees are being waived, according to the data.

“Nine times out of 10 they should still be paying the drug abuse fees,” she said. “Is it not being enforced? Is it not being credited to the right account? The numbers just don’t add up.”

Floyd County Prosecutor Keith Henderson, who was in attendance, said from looking at the data, counter measure fees, which go directly to the task force, are not being collected on all cases. He said those fees would come under the discretion of the judge.  

Keith said the courts are not supposed to waive the fees, since they are mandated by Indiana code. Henderson said he is going to check the state statute to see if the courts have the authority to waive counter measure fees.

This year, Keith had to ask the Floyd County Council for an additional appropriation of $13,000 just to pay operating expenses for her office.

Henderson said collecting the fees is just part of a bigger problem.

“Some of these people make $6, $7 an hour so the counter measure fee is low on the totem pole,” he said. “Court fees and probation fees keep going up and some of these people are not able to pay the fees. They may owe $1,500 for a first OWI [operating while intoxicated] arrest. I am all about holding people responsible, but the state just keeps raising these fees.

“The issue is whether our office is waiving fees, which I don’t believe they are, or the judges are waiving fees. That is something we will look into. Either it is not being assessed or not being collected. If they don’t have the ability to pay, the state can’t make them.”

Frank Loop, a Floyd County Sheriff’s Department officer and member of the Task Force, said before Henderson took office, the task force collected only $12,000 a year. He also said some crimes were down in Floyd County last year due to the Sherman Minton Bridge being closed for several months.

Data also shows other counties are having difficulty collecting the counter measure fees, Loop said.

Keith said Task Force committee members will meet with the four Floyd County judges individually to discuss the issue.

“It’s a problem that is not going away,” she said.

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