ROGERSVILLE — The good news for Hawkins County Sessions Judge Todd Ross is that his $18,000 request to cover the cost of indigent GPS and drug patch monitoring will be included in the proposed 2019-20 fiscal year budget.
The bad news is that $18,000 will be drawn from a fund that Ross is saving to establish a halfway house for recovering addicts.
The state had been covering 100 percent of the $200 cost for indigent defendants who are free on bond to be placed on GPS monitors or drug use detecting patches.
Last month, the state notified Ross that it was cutting its support for those programs in half, from $200 to $100 per defendant per month.
Pay $18,000 per year, or $180,000
Ross averages about 15 indigent defendants per month either on GPS or a drug patch, which will now cost about $1,500 per month to cover the county’s portion of the program, or an estimated $18,000 annually.
The alternative is keeping them in jail, which costs the sheriff’s office about $1,000 per month per inmate, or an additional $15,000 per month. That’s another $180,000 in expenditure annually for the sheriff’s office.
Ross has a fund in his budget which is supported by a $100 fee per DUI conviction that he uses only minimally to help offset expenses in his Recovery Court program.
It’s a restricted account in his budget for alcohol and drug treatment only. As of May, it had a balance of $289,520.
Creating an addiction recovery halfway house
Ross told the Budget Committee he hopes to use that fund to create an addiction recovery halfway house which he will establish when there’s a way to make the program financially sustainable.
He told the Budget Committee last month if it draws on that fund to offset the new GPS/drug patch expenditures, that fund will begin to shrink instead of grow and eventually will be depleted.
If the county depletes that fund, the $18,000 annual expense will still be there, Ross noted, but any hope of establishing a halfway house will be gone.
“It would be an admissible expense, possibly”
On Thursday, however, the Budget Committee voted 7-0 to utilize that restricted fund, allocating $18,000 annually from it to cover the GPS/drug patch program.
County Finance Director Eric Buchanan told the committee he was in contact with state auditors who said “it probably was” permissible to use Ross’ restricted fund for the GPS/drug patch program.
“He (Ross) indicated he didn’t know if that was allowable,” Buchanan told the committee Thursday. “Nobody (in the state audit office) wanted to give me hard information ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ but they kind of indicated that it probably was. … From what I was able to read, it did look like it would be an admissible expense, possibly.”
Buchanan added, “There is a sizable reserve, and as long as nobody comes back and says that it is not permissible, that is money we have set aside that we could use.”
The commission is expected to vote on the budget Aug. 26.
Special called meeting scrapped
Following the Budget Committee’s 4-3 vote Thursday recommending a $5 wheel tax reduction, commission chairman Mike Herrell told the Times News he would schedule an Aug. 19 special called meeting for the first of two required votes on a wheel tax change.
County Attorney Jim Phillips informed Herrell Friday, however, that wheel tax changes must be approved in back-to-back monthly meetings, so Herrell’s plan has been scrapped.
The first wheel tax vote will be at the regular Aug. 26 meeting, and if it is approved by a two-thirds vote (14 out of 21), it will come up for a final vote at the Sept. 23 meeting.