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By BOB WHITE
HARDIN COUNTY – For the first time in eight years, counter-drug agencies in Kentucky aren’t sounding the alarm over funding shortfalls.
On Monday, Greater Hardin County Narcotics Task Force director Wayne Edwards said task force funding for 2009-2010 is secure and sufficient – a stark contrast from every other year since 2001. Edwards credited ample funding of the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant to a Democratically-controlled federal government. “My experience has been whenever Democrats are in office, grant funding is good,” Edwards said. Having retired in 2004 after 33 years with Kentucky State Police, including a stint as Elizabethtown’s KSP Post 4 commander, Edwards has seen the trends in politics and grants. He’s been with the local drug task force since leaving KSP.
When President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, it included almost $2 billion in additional money for resources for state and local law enforcement, a boost for agencies reliant on grants such as that made available through the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (JAG). A year ago, drug task force groups throughout Kentucky warned of potential closures after Congress approved a budget that slashed the Byrne JAG finances by two-thirds, from $520 million to $170 million. It was the largest cut to the Byrne JAG in history. After the cuts were approved by Congress and other sources of federal funds fell through, Edwards warned that his agency could face shut down due to the looming cuts.
Other agencies, especially those more heavily reliant than the local task force on Byrne JAG money for personnel, echoed such warnings. It was another round of warnings heard many times before from those heading up Kentucky drug task forces supported by the Byrne JAG. Last July, appropriations by Kentucky’s Justice Cabinet were announced, and the 2008 burden was removed from the shoulders of Edwards and other Kentucky drug task force heads. The state gave the Hardin County office $200,000 and former U.S. Rep. Ron Lewis, a Republican, helped secure $40,000 in federal dollars to keep the local task force afloat through 2009. Similar scenarios played out with drug task forces in Kentucky throughout these past eight years under President George W. Bush. Pleas for funds were made along with warnings of potential closures, before last-minute appropriations saved counter-drug agencies for another year. “Pretty soon you got to quit crying wolf or no one will believe you,” Edwards joked on Monday. But for those working with the drug task forces and their supervisors, the cries over lack of funding and the last-minute appropriations were no laughing matter. Like clockwork, however, annual federal budgets since 2001 lessened funding of the Byrne JAG. Those woes each year were reported in local, regional and national news stories and followed up six to nine months later with reports on last minute pots of money being identified for drug task forces by a justice agency or a politician. An end of the would-be game is something Edwards and other drug task force directors throughout the state welcome. The Greater Hardin County Narcotics Task Force operating budget hovers at slightly more than $300,000, with most personnel, aside from the director and administration staff, being paid for by city and county governments donating police from within their respective law enforcement agencies to the task force. JAG funding supports about one-third of the overall operating costs. Supplemental funds also are gained through seizures of property and cash from convicted drug offenders. A similar setup works in for the Bullitt County Drug Task Force, but some of Kentucky’s other 14 task forces, such as the Pennyrile Drug Task Force, rely heavily on Byrne JAG for personnel. Each year, the local task force investigates 600-800 cases that lead to more than 500 arrests, according to stats provided by the Greater Hardin County Narcotics Task Force. Most of those cases in Hardin County stemmed from trafficking of marijuana, controlled pain medication and methamphetamine. The agency routinely provides drug enforcement resources to Meade, Grayson, Nelson and other counties in need of an extra hand in fighting drug crime. Along with drug task forces nationwide, the Byrne Jag also is available for financial support of anti-gang efforts. Bob White can be reached at (270) 572-5419.