Few people would argue that a program aimed at keeping children from abusing drugs and alcohol is not a great initiative, but unfortunately some such programs on the local level just don’t have the funding it needs.
That includes the West Point Police Department’s Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, which currently receives funding only from fundraising activities and West Point’s Prairie Opportunity Center.
West Point Chief of Police Tim Brinkley said now that the D.A.R.E. program has expanded into Clay County’s private schools even more funding is needed to keep the program ticking. Without adequate funding the program could cease, and that would be one less avenue from which local adolescents receive instructions on how to resist the dangerous life of drugs and alcohol.
That’s why West Point resident Bill East came before the West Point Board of Mayor and Selectmen Tuesday night asking the board to pass a resolution for the state legislature to approve an assessment on city court fines that would then be designated for the local D.A.R.E. program. East, who said the annual budget for the local D.A.R.E “has more than doubled during its lifetime,” is asking that at least $1 per Municipal Court fine be set aside for D.A.R.E.
“The cost for such a decision by this board is essentially nothing, but the dividends that can be paid from making such a decision by keeping our young people out of our court system, keeping our young people out of our jail – the dividends to the city could be enormous over time,” East said. “Our children are of great worth. Make no mistake that it is our responsibility, it is our duty to be role models, to teach, to instruct by example and to protect each one of them from the scourge of a drug/alcohol-violent culture.”
Mayor Scott Ross asked East if there was a specific reason he is requesting only $1, and Ross suggested raising the assessment to at least $5.
“The way the legislature typically funds all sorts of programs is through user fees,” Ross said. “When they wanted to raise the judges’ and the district attorneys’ salaries they just raised the cost of the filing fees in court. We attorneys are kind of used to that sort of thing. There’s an assessment for all sorts of things where assessing fines would be in the best interest of citizens. They assess it through users of the court system.”
East said his concern with assessing more than $1 or $2 per fine or fee is that assessments higher than that have a much more difficult time passing through the House of Representative and the Senate. He said he’s afraid if the assessment is set too high the bill introduced in the House of Representatives may be rejected.
East told the board that he spoke with District 37 Representative Gary Chism, whom East said will sponsor or co-sponsor a bill asking for the municipal court fine assessment. Chism informed East that if the board passes the resolution now there is still time for it to move through the House’s Local and Private Committee of the state legislature, which Chism serves on. East said he “hesitated” to contact Representatives Tyrone Ellis and Charles Jim Beckett about the proposal until after bringing the request to the local board.
If the legislature passes the bill East said the board will have the discretion of setting the assessment up to $2 per fine. The assessment could be as low as 50 cents per court fine if the board so chooses to set it at that rate.
Ward 5 Selectman Jasper Pittman made a motion to pass the resolution asking for a fine assessment up to $2, and the motion was seconded by Ward 4 Selectman Keith McBrayer. The motion carried after four selectmen voted in favor of the motion. (Ward 1 Selectman Rod Bobo was absent at Tuesday’s meeting.)
Brinkley thanked the board for their support of East’s proposal and said if it passes the legislature the funds through the assessment would be used to purchase materials for D.A.R.E. and would fund D.A.R.E. functions and services.
“We didn’t solicit Mr. East’s help; he has been very instrumental in D.A.R.E. in the past, and he came forward himself and decided this needed to be done,” Brinkley said. “I’m glad about it. It’s not that often that we have citizens to come forward with ideas like this and the expertise to carry them out. He’s already made contact with his representative to have the bill introduced and he already has a rough draft of the bill to be introduced.”