Pubdate: Tue,  6 Jul 2004
Source: Amarillo Globe-News (TX)
Copyright: 2004 Amarillo Globe-News
Author: Greg Cunningham
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)


Local Officials Working On Plan To Use Money From Drug Task

Gov. Rick Perry will apparently get his way with $1.7 million in money
left over from the Panhandle's now-defunct drug task force. Local
officials have decided to get together and work out a plan to use the
money - seized over the years by the former task force - to pay for
local drug-fighting programs that the governor's office refused to
fund. "I talked to (the governor's office), and I don't think they're
going to change their mind any," Amarillo Police Chief Jerry Neal
said. "We certainly don't agree with this, but it looks like we're
going to have to go with what they want."

The money in question, known as program-generated income, comes from a
seizure account maintained by the Panhandle Regional Narcotics
Trafficking Task Force, which was dissolved in May as part of the
settlement of the Tulia drug bust suit.

The dissolution of the task force obligated Amarillo to turn down
$719,938 in grants that had been approved for operation of the task
force and funding of area drug programs for 2005. The grants are
controlled by Perry's Criminal Justice Division using federal money
known as Byrne Grants.

In an effort to replace the lost grants, the Panhandle Regional
Planning Commission last month asked the CJD to approve an emergency
$600,000 grant. The grant was meant to pay for training and equipment
to combat methamphetamine labs, as well as a juvenile drug treatment
program that has been shut down for two months due to lack of funds.

The CJD rejected that application without explanation, leading to an
outcry from area leaders who said Perry's office was taking money from
the Panhandle.

Perry's office responded by saying the intention all along was to have
the $1.7 million in leftover funds used to fund drug fighting in the
Panhandle, rather than sending money to replace the lost Byrne Grants.

"When the task force was dissolved, we could have taken that
program-generated income, but that's not what the governor wanted,"
Perry spokesman Robert Black said. "He wanted that money to stay in
the Panhandle to be used by the local entities in fighting narcotics."

Unfortunately for the city of Amarillo, that message never seemed to
work its way up to the Panhandle. Neal said the CJD originally
directed the city to do something quite different, and has now changed
its tune about what to do with the $1.7 million.

"Initially, we were told to split it up between the agencies that
financially supported the task force," Neal said. "It's pretty
frustrating that now they're saying they told us something different
all along."

Black questioned whether the CJD directed that the money be divided
among member governments, although the voluntary dissolution of a drug
task force is a unique event that could have engendered some
confusion, he said.

"From the governor's perspective, it's unfortunate that there seems to
have been a breakdown in communications on both ends of this
situation," Black said.

"But the goal now should be to make sure this $1.7 million is put to
the best use for the people of the Panhandle. That's why the
governor's office is more than willing to work with local leaders to
figure out."

Black has called for the city of Amarillo, which has immediate control
of the money, to work with the PRPC and other Panhandle officials to
devise a plan using the money to continue funding drug programs.
That's precisely what officials say they will do.

"I think it's important for us to sit down and look at the resources
that are available and where they can meet needs," said Gary Pitner,
PRPC executive director.

"It's for the city of Amarillo, along with other financial
participants, and the governor's office to make a determination on how
those residual resources can be used. We're happy to play a part in
helping that process come along."
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin