Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
The budget approved by Congress includes nearly restored funding for Montana’s drug task forces, but the Montana Board of Crime Control now faces a new problem where to invest $3.1 million in funding from the federal Jobs Bill. “This is one-time moneys ,” said Hill County Commissioner Mike Anderson, chair of the Board of Crime Control. “We need to fund something we can build infrastructure- wise that will leave a lasting legacy on law enforcement and crime prevention.” The funding is part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act stimulus package, called by proponents the Jobs Bill. The money is through the federal Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program, which has traditionally been used for the state’s six drug task forces, including the Tri-Agency Safe Trails Task Force based out of Havre. In 2007, the funding for the JAG program was cut 67 percent in last-minute work to pass a spending bill. The members of Congress seemed not to know the cut was made. Montana took an even greater hit with reduced appropriations due to a reduction in the reported crime rate. It lost nearly 76 percent with the state funding, bringing the total down to less than $337,000. Anderson said the cut hit the task forces hard. “(It) really strained the task forces,” he said. “They really cut back.” The omnibus spending bill passed by Congress nearly restored the funding for the next year, Anderson said. Montana will receive about $600,000 more than last year, which is still about $200,000 short of the fiscal year 2007 funding, he said. Anderson said he expects that money to go straight back to the task Forces, which use it to pay their staff. The Tri-Agency task force has been helped this year by the Havre Police Department and the Hill County Sheriff’s Office, which used part of their budgets to help pay the agents working for the task force. Anderson said part of the $3.1 million from the Jobs Bill could be used to make up the $200,000 shortfall, although how that money will be spent will be a matter of discussion over the next several months. The board is looking for comments on how the money should be used, he added, including putting a survey up on its Web site. “Everybody is welcome to go to the Web site and go through the survey and tell us where they think the money should be spent,” he said. The survey should be up by the end of this week, Anderson said. The deadline for sending comments and suggestions to the board was set as April 3. The board already has started to receive e-mails from city and county governments and state agencies with suggestions, he added. Anderson said JAG funds programs in seven major areas, in which the $3.1 million would have to be spent. The major areas are: Law enforcement programs; Prosecution and court programs; Prevention and education programs; Corrections and community corrections programs; Drug treatment and enforcement programs; Planning, evaluation and technology improvement programs; Crime victim and witness programs, other than compensation. “You can fit just about anything under one of those categories,” Anderson said. He said the board also is taking action on another issue making sure local governments take advantage of the JAG funds. The money is split 60 percent to the state government, which is administered by the Board of Crime Control, and 40 percent to local governments about $1.8 million under the Jobs Bill appropriation. House Speaker Bob Bergren, D-Havre, said the amount available to local governments, city and county has already been determined, but the governments have to apply to get the money. Some governments, such as Blaine, Liberty and Chouteau counties and smaller communities such as Chinook cannot apply for the JAG funds, but can apply for similar grants through another program. Anderson said applying for the funds JAG or otherwise can sometimes be a problem for smaller agencies some sheriff’s offices, for example, might not have enough staff to research and write an application or may not even have computers to process the application. The state board is offering help with that, Anderson said. It already has contacted all agencies that can apply, offering help with the applications and more help will be available through the Web site, he said. “We’ll offer technical assistance to any jurisdiction that wants help with any of these grants,” Anderson said. The money will revert to the federal government if the local governments do not apply, he added. “Our concern is we don’t want any money left sitting on the table,” Anderson said.