City Council increases drug task force support

Craig City Council members agree that a regional drug enforcement task force is valuable; just how valuable is the question.

Faced with dwindling state and federal support, the Greater Routt and Moffat Narcotics Enforcement Team is trying to gauge the level of local support.

Police Chief Walt Vanatta told the council Tuesday that communities had years to assess whether and how they were willing to fund the task force's $400,000 annual budget.

In the meantime, however, the task force may need more money from each of its three members to make it through the year.

The Craig City Council agreed Tuesday to provide stopgap funding so the task force can operate through 2006.

Members voted to give an additional $11,305 if the task force couldn't make it through the year without the additional funds.

The city's usual contribution to the team is nearly $60,000 a year.

The task force learned in December that federal High Intensity Drug Activity grants, used primarily to offset overtime costs, would be cut, resulting in a loss of $44,000.

"Unfortunately, they didn't tell us until December, and that kind of put us behind the curve," Vanatta said.

He said several grants were available for equipment but few for operating costs.

Steamboat Springs, Routt County and Moffat County all are being asked to chip in additional funds to offset the loss.

Steamboat Springs already has approved the contribution, and Routt County officials are still considering it.

In December, the task force made 20 arrests that were the result of a nine-month investigation.

"This type of large-scale operation could never have been completed by any of our individual agencies without having a task force in place," Vanatta said.

The task force has averaged 60 arrests a year during the past four years and has a conviction rate of higher than 90 percent.

"It's extremely important we perpetuate this effort and make it as strong of an effort as we possibly can," Councilor Terry Carwile said. "All we can do is try to help (the task force) with the resource it needs. I think as much as we need to do, we need to."

Although the council ap----prov--ed the expense, members ask that the task force try to cut costs and make it as long as possible without the additional money.

"It would be nice if you could wait awhile instead of the third week in January," Mayor Don Jones said.

The city needed to help the task force become independent of unreliable funding sources, Carwile said.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210, or ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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