By Alex Bridges - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- The debate over funding for a local detox center volleyed back into Frederick County's court Wednesday.
The Board of Supervisors finance committee heard an update from County Administrator John Riley Jr. on the funding status of the Starting Point Public Inebriate Center in the Division of Court Services, 317 S. Cameron St., Winchester.
But Riley told the panel he has yet to hear from the City Council whether it plans to increase its share of funding for the center or keep the level at the $90,000 it approved in the current budget. Such an amount would mean the end of Starting Point, he said.
Director Scott Anderson had requested more than $180,000 from the city, but the council, faced with balancing a budget with less revenue, agreed to appropriate only $90,000.
Riley told the panel that he asked Anderson to research the number of clients served by Starting Point, including repeat users. Based on data that showed seven people made up 500 visits to the center, Riley said he asked Anderson to revise the budget, excluding those by the repeat users "because they were abusing the system."
The city's use of the center fell, according to the new figures, as Riley recalled, resulting in a revised budget of $139,500. He said he now wants to find out from the city whether it would increase its share of the funding for the center to $140,000, an increase of approximately $50,000.
"They have revisited the issue but I cannot determine how they're gonna approach the increase," Riley said.
In a meeting with acting City Manager Robert Noe and Finance Director Mary Blowe, Riley said one of two scenarios could occur: Either the city would keep funding at the approved $90,000 and revisit the issue in January, or it could appropriate for six months half of the $50,000 needed to bring the total to $140,000.
"What we don't know is what are they gonna do," Riley said. "If the city maintains the $90,000 for the entire fiscal year, it would not seem fiscally doable to continue the program. We'd have to shut it down."
But documents released Friday indicate council may increase its fall appropriation of funds to the center by an additional $25,000. The funding proposal is included in a draft resolution set to come before the council at its first-reading meeting Tuesday.
Some council members expressed concern in earlier discussions about the issue of repeat users of the center. Anderson has been working with the city commonwealth's attorney's office and the Police Department to establish a system to punish repeat visitors. One possible approach would call for anyone who goes to the center more than twice a month to be arrested and taken to jail as a habitual offender.
An officer may spend an average of 15 minutes dropping someone off at the center, compared to an hour processing a person at the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center.
As Riley explained, without the program, the people would go to the jail, thereby increasing the local cost to house such inmates.