A drug task force that has been in operation for the past decade may be on the brink of extinction, as cash-strapped agencies are becoming reluctant to fund the program.
GRAMNET, or Grand, Routt and Moffat Narcotics Enforcement Team, is charged with apprehending mid- to high-level drug trafficking operations in the tri-county district. A lack of seizures in the past couple of years and a decrease in federal funding may put more of the funding burden on local agencies -- a shift that doesn't sit well with law enforcement agencies that collaboratively help fund the program.
"If the funding situation doesn't look better, we can't afford it," Moffat County Sheriff Buddy Grinstead said. "It's not by choice, but because we don't have the money."
Grinstead said GRAMNET's contributing agencies, which are composed of the tri-county's sheriff, police departments and the 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office, may to have to come up with an additional $10,000 next year.
In 2003, the Moffat County Sheriff's Department contributed half of a full-time position, or about $23,000 toward GRAMNET. The 14th Judicial District paid about $14,000 last year for administrative costs, and Grand County's Sheriff's Department contributed about $28,000, Grand County's sheriff, Rodney Johnson, said.
Grand County officials recently decided to yank its funding for GRAMNET next year.
"The concept (of GRAMNET) is pretty good, but we don't get enough out of it," Johnson said. "We're pretty stretched out. That's my reasoning."
In the past three years, GRAMNET produced, at most, 10 drug busts in Grand County, Johnson said. The task force is reimbursed from the sale of assets confiscated in a raid, but the group didn't make enough busts to make it viable, he said.
In 2003, GRAMNET seized $32,360 in assets, busted two clandestine drug labs and seized 10 handguns.
But if GRAMNET disappears, 14th Judicial District Attorney, Bonnie Roesink said she hopes it doesn't affect drug investigations.
"It's hard to say what's going to happen (with GRAMNET)," she said. "No matter what happens we hope we can improve our investigations. That is certainly our goal."
If GRAMNET dissolves, Grinstead said the department would refer to the Drug Enforcement Agency, which has an office in Steamboat Springs. The Moffat County's Sheriff Office also plans to ask commissioners to retain its portion of GRAMNET funding for a drug enforcement deputy position.
GRAMNET gained national attention last year when its five officers and one DEA agent confiscated marijuana from 57-year-old Hayden resident Don Nord, who is a registered medical marijuana user in Colorado. A Routt County judge placed GRAMNET officers in contempt of court for not giving back the drugs, but the U.S. Attorney's Office asked the case to be moved to federal court and the contempt charges dismissed.
While local law enforcement says GRAMNET works, continuing to fund it "is all about the bottom line," Grinstead said.
"GRAMNET is working," he said. "What isn't working is finding a funding source for it."
Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or email@example.com.