GRAMNET brings financial issues to meeting

Christina M. Currie

A two-county drug task force is struggling to balance an increase in arrests with a decreasing budget.

For the first time since the task force’s inception, elected officials heard the details of that struggle Tuesday at a joint meeting of the Craig City Council and Moffat County Board of Commissioners.

As an arm of the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Grand, Routt and Moffat Narcotics Enforcement Team’s operations were considered secret. Few reports were made, even to the cities and counties that funded them.

In July, GRAMNET split from the DEA, which allowed two things — for the task force to work more local cases and for it to open communications about its activities.

“The task force now — now that it’s not a federal task force — is much better suited for our area,” 14th Judicial District Attorney Bonnie Roesink said. “They’re doing an excellent job. I’m very, very supportive of this task force the way it’s set up now.”

The numbers show the difference. In 2004, the task force made 54 arrests. As of Tuesday, it had made 84 — 53 of which were methamphetamine related and 17 were related to marijuana. There are few instances of arrests for cocaine- and mushroom-related crimes.

“As with all other counties in the nation, methamphetamine arrests are on the rise,” GRAMNET Supervisor Dusty Shultz said. “I do think we’re doing a good job of catching them, but I do think use is on the rise.”

The street value of all drugs seized was more than $300,000.

Forty-six percent of those arrested were of “career criminals,” those with a years-long history of criminal activity. Nearly 100 percent of those arrested were repeat offenders.

“We’re not chasing first-time felons, we’re chasing the hard-core career criminals that you want off your streets,” Shultz said.

The organization is facing funding problems. Grand County pulled its funding this year, and the agency’s primary grant was reduced 30 percent. That increased the amount of local support needed to continue operations of the three- to four-man task force.

“It’s something that we definitely need, no doubt,” Craig Mayor Don Jones said.

Craig’s contribution was increased from paying 50 percent of an officer’s salary to 75 percent. Other communities faced similar increases.

And, it’s probably not the end. The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Agency is pushing GRAMNET to more and more arrests and larger-scale requests and comparing its performance to task forces with more manpower and less area to cover. GRAMNET stands to lose more than $46,000 if its increase in arrests isn’t deemed enough.

Shultz warned elected officials to be prepared for higher funding requests if that happens, but he said he doesn’t expect it to. He said he’s gotten a verbal commitment for that money.

“I think we’ll have the numbers to make it,” he said.

The problem is that a federal grant designed to help rural drug task forces is being used to fund drug prevention, education and treatment programs. The Craig City Council and the Moffat County commissioners have agreed to send letters to state representatives and the federal budget allocations committees asking for full funding.

If approved, Shultz expected Gramnet’s 2006-07 budget to be about $419,041, three-quarters of which covers personnel costs. There’s little left for operations, he said, which creates a problem.

“I can write grants for equipment all day long. I can get equipment,” Shultz said. “What I need is money to buy drugs.”

Shultz was asked to make an annual report on GRAMNET’s activities.

“It’s nice to see bang for the buck and the effectiveness,” Councilor Bill Johnston said.

Moffat County Commissioner Darryl Steele said this is the first time in three years that he’s had any information about GRAMNET.

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