Drug agents in budget crunch as high-dollar busts dwindle

The Warren County Drug Task Force assisted in Springboro with this multi-county investigation of an alleged indoor marijuana grow operation. LAWRENCE BUDD / STAFF

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The Warren County Drug Task Force assisted in Springboro with this multi-county investigation of an alleged indoor marijuana grow operation. LAWRENCE BUDD / STAFF

The Warren County Drug Task Force is running out of money.

The organization, funded through a combination of state and federal grants, local funding, in-kind contributions and forfeiture proceeds, wants the Warren County Board of Commissioners to practically double its funding contribution from $141,000 to $263,000.

One source of coming budget deficits projected for the organization, which operates on about $1 million a year, has been a reduction of almost $500,000 in annual proceeds from state and federal forfeitures, according to task-force data.

The task force has not in recent years made the high-dollar busts resulting in $100,000-plus seizures, while state and federal law and rule changes have also cost them proceeds, Warren County Sheriff Larry Sims and Springboro Police Chief Jeff Kruithoff said.

“We’ve seen this day coming for a number of years,” Kruithoff, chairperson of the board overseeing the task force, said.

Last week, the Warren County commissioners discussed whether to grant the budget request - for now - from carryover funds.

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Departments have been directed to keep budget requests close to 2017 levels as the county prepares to take on long-term debt to build a new $50 million jail and other growing expenses.

Commissioner Dave Young proposed the task force raise $60,000 from communities around the county, most of which already contribute cash or an officer to the operation.

“If we’re going to pay more, everybody else should pay more,” Young said during an Oct. 17 budget discussion.

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But Kruithoff and Sims said communities last year upped their shares and suggested it was time for the county to increase its share: typically $140,000 since 2006.

The task force budget pays for six agents, as well as rent and utilities on the operation’s secure facility at an undisclosed location.

The sheriff's office, Franklin, Springboro and Lebanon provide officers to the operation, rather than funds. The force also collaborates with the DEA, FBI and regional and state drug agents.

Mason, and Turtlecreek, Deerfield and Clearcreek townships are among communities providing shares of the funding, based on population, that makes up more than $280,000 of the budget.

Barring more local support or another revenue uptick, Sims said staff would probably have to be cut at a time when problems with opioids are of epidemic proportions.

“It’s as bad as it’s ever been,” Sims said. “You take a huge piece away from our ability to keep people safe.”

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About $200,000 a year could be saved by moving the base of operations from its secure facility into the sheriff’s office.

By 2022, the deficit is projected to eliminate a carryover, mostly from forfeiture funds, and grow to $500,000 a year, Sims said.

“Tomorrow, if they make a $200,000 seizure, this thing gets pushed down the road,” Sims said.

Despite the budget crunch, Kruithoff said the task force needed to continue its focus on high-level drug dealers and drug trafficking.

“That’s the job. Chasing forfeitures is not the job of the drug task force,” Kruithoff said. “The forfeitures will come.”

State and federal law and rule changes have cut into forfeiture proceeds in recent years. In 2013, the county received more than $514,000 from federal forfeitures, less than $19,000 last year, according to task-force records.

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In July, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions indicated his office would make it easier for drug agents to cash in on property and money seized from suspects.

“It may get back up there,” Sims said. “They depended on those forfeiture dollars.”

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