Legislature tables drug investigator position

John Christensen The Chronicle-Express
Annmarie F. Flanagan, Mike Ballard, Valerie Gardner, and Deb Minor of the Yates Substance Abuse Coalition reported on their research and activities related to heroin and other drugs.

Despite widespread public demand for a dedicated drug officer after rising drug arrests, a number of heroin overdoses, and several deaths, the Yates County Legislature voted to table a resolution brought forth by the Public Safety Committee to create the new position.

Discussion focused primarily upon how to fund a new position over the next three years while facing ever tighter tax caps imposed by the state. Vice Chairman Doug Paddock said, “the funds have to come from somewhere,” and cited the financial pressure of county roads and bridges. Gary Montgomery said while he knows it will not be popular, he intended to vote no. Elden Morrison agreed, claiming the position would cost the county over $300,000 over three years. Other officials put that number much lower. Bonnie Percy mentioned that new, stricter laws are being enacted against dealers, and “We need to stop the flow of drugs.”

Quoting Sheriff Ron Spike, James Smith said, “We cannot arrest our way out of this,” and claimed that overall crime in the county was declining. Dan Banach countered with Spike’s statement that his men are stretched as far as they can go. Banach went on to say, “We must deal with this crime in Yates County here and now.”

Percy and Chairman Tim Dennis stated that state and federal grants are available to fund drug enforcement.

Leslie Church moved to table the resolution until next month. Church said, “I’m concerned we don’t know where we’re going to get the funding for the new position.” It was seconded by Elden Morrison. The motion carried, but was opposed by Bill Colgate, Bonnie Percy, Earle Gleason, Dan Banach, and Chairman Tim Dennis.

Asked for comment later, Church said, “We need to look into it more. I’m not convinced we don’t have enough staff now, but I would support it if the money can be found.”

Commenting afterward, Sheriff Spike said, “I have been asked by some legislators if the sheriffs office could do more with drug investigations and arrests. We are doing the best we can with current resources. Could we do more? Yes, indeed with additional dedicated drug focused manpower to follow-up on tips, etc. We are constantly spending present investigators time working with other police agencies and community partners to do law enforcement's part in this multi faceted community drug crisis (prevention & education, treatment for addicts and opportunities to recover and family services, and apprehension of dealers). Other crimes such as burglary/larceny or fraud may not get the time commitment to solve due to drug case demands. I have dedicated well trained deputies and investigators and we are dedicated to public safety in this county community. We will do our best with the manpower we have, but could do more with additional dedicated drug investigator.”

While the legislature was meeting, news was released by the Yates County Sheriff’s Office that at 28-year-old man in Benton had narrowly survived a heroin overdose. Later that night, Penn Yan Police responded to another overdose, this time with oxycontin. According to police, these are already the third and fourth overdoses in the county since Jan. 1.

Before the resolution was presented, Annmarie F. Flanagan, Mike Ballard, Deb Minor, and Valerie Gardner of the Yates Substance Abuse Coalition reported on their research and activities related to heroin specifically, and the increasing challenge it presents to small rural communities. Flanagan has submitted a white paper on her research to the county. In it she also recommended additional personnel for the Sheriff’s Office and the Public Health Dept.

Sandy Cleveland Smith, related to one of the overdose deaths, spoke of the need to have a dedicated drug investigator. Arianna Chadwick, 23, who herself was one of the overdose cases last month, spoke of the need for easier and more central access to information on treatment programs, and the need for improved youth education. Donna McKay, of Penn Yan, said that addicts need a place where they can safely come forward to get help without fear of being reprimanded.

In other business:

Planning – Tim Cutler, Planning Board Chairman for the Town of Jerusalem, was appointed as interim part-time, temporary county planner following Shawna Bonshak’s departure.

Payroll – A new position of “Payroll Specialist” was created and authorized to be filled.