Sunday, November 19, 2000

Drug squad raising money

Localities asked to pitch in

By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — Three weeks after commissioners rejected a $383,000 request to expand the county's drug-busting squad, the Warren County Drug Task Force is on a fund-raising mission.

        Agency officials want each city, village and township to consider donating $1 per resident to the task force in an effort to beef up the operation, which targets mid- and high-level dope dealers.

        That would raise about $113,000 in new money and has potential to bring in a total of $226,000 because commissioners have promised to match any funding the task force secures.

        John Burke, who was hired to lead the drug agency a year ago, will pitch the proposal at a meeting Monday. More than 60 community officials were invited to attend.

        “We basically did what (commissioners) asked. They said go to the political sub- divisions and ask for more help out of them, and they would match it dollar for dollar,” said Prosecutor Tim Oliver, who heads the task force policy board.

        He said he hasn't received much feedback from communities, although Franklin Township officials have said they support the proposal.

        The township is one of eight communities and agencies that now contribute $5,000 annually toward the task force operation. A per-capita donation would increase the township's contribution to more than $13,000. Township officials could not be reached.

        County Commission President Pat South reiterated the board's promise to provide matching funds.

        “We will match it dollar for dollar,” she said.

        Mrs. South said the board sent a letter to all community leaders who were invited to Monday's meeting, supporting the task force proposal.

        She said she thinks the public misunderstood commissioners' action when the board denied the task force budget request last month.

        “We had concerns about the quantity of the money, and how it exceeded the (drug funding) in our surrounding counties,” she said.

        “It was not our intent to shut the drug task force down. ... The operation of the drug task force and the decision on how far it should be expanded, I think, is a communitywide decision.”

        Mr. Burke requested the $383,000 so that he could add three agents, lease an office and hire a secretary.

        The 7-year-old task force, which includes Mr. Burke and a deputy on loan from the Warren County Sheriff's Office, currently operates on a $58,000 federal grant and $40,000 in contributions from eight political entities.

        Mr. Burke said that because of the limited staff, about 20 drug tips a week go unanswered.


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