The county administrative office has rejected a $430,000 drug abuse education program proposed by Sheriff Brad Gates, saying it is too expensive for a government that is in a financial crunch.
The decision sets the stage for a meeting Tuesday at which the Board of Supervisors will have to choose between sustaining the rejection of the popular sheriff’s plan to fight drugs and raiding a depleted county budget.
“There is concern that the action we might take . . . could be misunderstood (as) not being absolutely aggressive in our desire to help solve the (drug) problem,” Supervisor Thomas F. Riley said. “I know we’re all going to give this very, very serious discussion.”
Board of Supervisors Chairman Harriett M. Wieder said, “I don’t think where drugs are concerned, you can do a bottom-line approach,” but she said she wants to be certain that the sheriff’s proposal does not duplicate other anti-drug efforts in the county.
“There’s so much being done . . . are we managing all of our resources to address the problem?” she asked.
The county is seeking money for varied programs during the rest of the fiscal year. If the money does not turn up, administrators have suggested that they might be forced to lay off employees.
The anti-drug plan proposed by Gates would involve deputies addressing elementary school classrooms in a bid to prevent future drug use.
It calls for eight full-time positions: a sergeant, four deputies, an investigator and two clerks. The sheriff said his program will also require three new vans. In his written proposal, Gates said the program would cost about $430,000 for a full year and about $307,000 for the 8 months remaining in the current fiscal year.
Gates has campaigned throughout the county for months on behalf of a privately financed drug-eradication effort that has included creating student advisory councils on drugs, billboards, bumper stickers and speeches. He said he has raised more than $200,000 in private contributions for that effort.
He has suggested that seizures of cash and other valuables during drug raids by the Sheriff’s Department could pay for the county-funded program he is urging.
A supervisor’s aide said that the county’s drug forfeiture fund has about $1 million and that federal rules require that it be used for anti-drug programs.
But the supervisors must approve the disbursement, and county officials reportedly have considered using that money for other law enforcement purposes.
County Administrative Officer Larry Parrish and John Sibley, associate county administrative officer, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Sheriff’s Lt. Robert Rivas declined to comment, beyond saying: “We generally try to stay away from making comments until the board acts on it. We don’t try to get involved with the press before it gets to the board.”
In a written proposal to the supervisors, however, Gates said: “The Sheriff’s Department sees this program as an essential part of the countywide effort to combat drug abuse. Uniformed deputy sheriffs should deliver the message. They can bring the harsh realities of drug use from the streets to the classroom with unmatchable credibility.”
The education program would be aimed at students in the fifth and sixth grades, he said. By ages 12 to 14, Gates said, most students have seen drugs or have been pressured to use them.
“It is time for the Sheriff’s Department, with your honorable board’s support, to seize this moment to carry the message against drug abuse to the most vulnerable of our citizens: elementary school students,” Gates wrote. “Our children must be better prepared to deal with the existence of drugs in society.”