Pubdate: Wed, 30 Jun 2004
Source: Amarillo Globe-News (TX)
Copyright: 2004 Amarillo Globe-News
Author: Greg Cunningham
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)


Spokesman Says $1.7 Million Available

The fight over funding to replace the Panhandle's regional drug task
force got a little more complicated this week, with Gov. Rick Perry's
office telling local officials to look closer to home for the money
they are seeking. Robert Black, spokesman for Perry, said Tuesday the
Panhandle has plenty of money for fighting narcotics, but it is up to
Amarillo's local government to access that money.

"There is, right now, $1.7 million in the bank with the city of
Amarillo," Black said. "That's program income money left over from the
task force that they could be putting to use. Instead, they came to us
with their hand out looking for new money when they have the money
right now."

Black was speaking in response to local officials who lashed out at
the governor's Criminal Justice Division last week over a decision to
reject an emergency application from the Panhandle Regional Planning
Commission for a $600,000 grant to fund narcotics interdiction and
drug treatment programs.

Black said the governor's office left the $1.7 million in Amarillo
with the idea it would be used to pick up the slack from the lost task
force, rather than dipping into the $32 million in Byrne Grants the
state divides among task forces every year.

The funding in question is seizure money accumulated by the Panhandle
Regional Narcotics Trafficking Task Force over the past few years.

The task force was dissolved last month as part of the settlement of
the Tulia drug bust lawsuit, forcing the return of about $800,000 in
federal money - known as Byrne Grants - that had been approved for the
task force operation.

Gov. Perry's office might think using that seizure money to fund drug
programs makes sense, but local officials have a decidedly different
view of the situation.

Amarillo Police Chief Jerry Neal said the $1.7 million is already
spoken for, set to go back to the counties and municipalities that
helped fund the task force during the years.

"The CJD's being totally ridiculous on this," Neal said. "We put those
funds into savings over the years for a dire need. Now that there is
no task force, it's time to pay back these governments that funded

A plan now being worked out will split the money among Amarillo,
Canyon, Borger and Pampa, and Potter and Randall counties based on the
amount of money each government put into the task force. The task
force comprised more than 30 counties and municipalities, but the
money would only go back to the governments that contributed funds or

Neal might find out his plan is dead on arrival, however.

Black said under federal grant guidelines, the governor can seize any
or all of that money and divide it up as he sees fit if the matter
cannot be worked out.

The two sides cannot even agree whether the Panhandle has actually
lost any funding.

Black said with $1.7 million freed up by the dissolution of the task
force, the area has more than double the $800,000 it had to return in
federal funds. Black also pointed out the CJD approved more than $2
million in funds for programs in the Panhandle not related to the task

Some officials say that math does not add up.

John Kiehl, regional services director with the Panhandle Regional
Planning Commission, said any way you cut it, $800,000 that was coming
to the area is gone, and the governor's office is not willing to replace it.

If the governor's office wanted the task force seizure money used,
Kiehl said, representatives should have informed local governments a
long time ago, so funding could have been arranged in a timely manner.
Instead, with the loss of Byrne Grants, programs in the area are going
unfunded while everyone tries to figure out to do with the task force

"I don't know what kind of plan the city of Amarillo is going to have
to come up with to distribute that money," Kiehl said. "But I don't
think it's fair they should have to come up with that scheme right
away. We ought to take a step back and look at the $1.7 million.
Meanwhile, the state should be funding these programs so they don't
die on the vine."

Kiehl said the PRPC would be willing to sit down with the CJD and
representatives from local governments to figure out how to use the
task force money, if that is what it takes to keep the programs funded.

Black also said a plan is needed, and said local leadership - likely
the PRPC - needs to come up with a proposal on how to use the task
force money.

Potter County Judge Arthur Ware, one of Gov. Perry's most vocal
critics last week, seemed fairly mollified by the idea of dividing up
the task force funds, although he said the governor's office could
have handled the controversy much better.

"After all of the problems that came about from last week and the rest
of the information that finally has surfaced, I think we can work
something out with them," Ware said.

"It would have been nice to have this information last week, though.
When they gave us that rejection and didn't give us a reason, we got a
little upset."
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin