Stimulus funds cause friction

On Monday, two Mesa County commissioners squabbled over the details of a $730,074 federal grant to treat methamphetamine addicts, and a third commissioner peppered the local sheriff with questions about a grant for a $213,716 crime-fighting vehicle.

In the end, though, all the grant requests were approved, including a $3.13 million request to expand the county jail and $269,114 to train state prisoners to be janitors.

Commissioners Janet Rowland and Steve Acquafresca locked horns last week discussing what funds the county should seek as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. One of the items was “scholarships” for treatment of meth addicts who have been arrested.

The federal dollars, if approved, would be distributed through the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice and are to be used by addicts to seek treatment at a variety of locations, including the county’s Summit View treatment facility (which has 24 county beds), Hilltop and The Salvation Army.

Rowland favored applying for the financing. Acquafresca also did, but he took exception to
the verbiage.

“They are calling it a scholarship,” an irritated Acquafresca said after the initial meeting on the subject.

“Scholarships are generally perceived as a reward, a reward for an accomplishment. What the heck kind of an accomplishment is it to go in for methamphetamine treatment? That is not a compliment — that is a failure. So we are rewarding people for failures.”

By Monday, the name had been changed to treatment voucher.

Additionally, Acquafresca and Dennis Berry, director of criminal justice services, had drafted some new language to attach to the funding request — unknown to Rowland — that would require recipients to repay the government for treatment costs.

Rowland said she agreed with the language’s intent, but she was visibly perturbed.

“For me to have six minutes to review, this is not thoughtful,” she said.

Rowland said the language equates to a “policy change” for the county. It’s not a policy change she disagreed with, just one she wanted to discuss before voting.

Dollars raining down from Washington also are causing friction between Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey and Commissioner Craig Meis.

Hilkey asked the commission if he could seek $213,716 in stimulus money for a crime scene-response vehicle.

“I just question the need for this in light of (the Colorado Bureau of Investigation’s) criminal vehicle,” Meis said.

Hilkey fired right back.

“We don’t consider this a want; we consider this a need,” Hilkey said.

Another need of law enforcement is jail space.

Expansion of the jail’s booking and receiving areas and converting the jail’s gym into room for another 48 inmates was another item approved for possible stimulus dollars.

Hilkey asked for and received, without question from the board of commissioners, permission to seek $3.13 million for the renovations and personnel required to operate an expanded jail.

Lastly, the $269,000 grant request to train state prisoners to be janitors also was questioned by Meis, who asked if Criminal Justice Services couldn’t just use a private company and save money.

“We need to manage the offenders,” said Dennis Berry, director of justice services.

He added that the goal of the program, which has been operational since June 2007 when the Summit View treatment center opened on South Avenue and Seventh Street, is to rehabilitate inmates.

Berry said two inmates in the program clean Summit View.

Additional inmates will be trained to care for the Grand Valley Transit building under construction at Fifth Street and South Avenue.

After the meeting, Berry said since 2005 there have been eight inmates in the program.

Two inmates are still in custody; the other six have been released.

One of the six released is unemployed and Berry said he did not know, the occupations of the other five.

The county should learn if the grants are approved later this year.


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