Surcharge may help fund detox
Like everything else, the cost of being a drunken fool is about to go up.
That rise, which could come in the form of a court-imposed surcharge for drug- and alcohol-related offenses, is one method the Glenwood Springs City Council members have proposed to help pay the city’s portion of detox center costs.
If the ordinance – which is up for discussion tonight at City Council’s regular meeting – is passed, people found guilty of committing an alcohol- or drug-related crime will be compelled to pay a share of detox center costs.
During the last year, local entities from Aspen to Rifle to Eagle, and even as far as Steamboat Springs, have been faced with the challenge of helping fund the local detox center in downtown Glenwood Springs. Although the center is privately owned and operated by Colorado West Counseling Services, it’s been a losing proposition, resulting in repeated warnings that the center could be closed if it doesn’t get financial help.
Each year, 450 to 550 people are admitted to the detox center at a total cost of around $500,000 each year, said Michael Lucid, Colorado West Counseling Services assistant executive director.
“It’s funded by state general fund dollars,” Lucid said. “But there has not been an increase for the last five or six years.”
Additionally, the state won’t allow Colorado West to use other state money toward the center.
“We do collect fees from clients, and we have a drug testing program we can use income from,” he said.
But that money falls far short of paying for the operational costs of the center.
So to keep it afloat, Colorado West administrators appealed to local governments to appropriate funds that could be used to keep the center open.
All of the towns and counties in the Roaring Fork Valley acquiesced, putting some money toward the center. The amount is calculated by looking at their average number of patients admitted to the center each year.
To help pay for its portion of those costs, the Glenwood Springs City Council recently broached the idea of placing a surcharge on alcohol- and drug-related offenses.
The definition of such a crime is up for interpretation by the city’s municipal judge and the prosecutor.
While not approved yet, the draft ordinance calls for a convicted offender to pay an additional 10 percent of the total fine imposed for the violation. So if the guilty person receives a $100 fine, the city would then tack on an additional $10 that goes to the detox center.
“That’s just an arbitrary number I picked out of the sky,” Glenwood Springs city attorney Teresa Williams said. The council can either agree with the 10 percent charge or come up with its own surcharge, she said.
“It’s for specific drug and alcohol offenses, but it’s also for when drugs and alcohol are involved,” she said.
The 10 percent surcharge would be calculated on the whole amount of the fine, even if part of that fine were deferred, the draft ordinance said.
Williams said offenses such as fighting and urinating in public are examples of situations where a fine could be imposed because alcohol or drugs indirectly cause the behavior in question.
“The court prosecutor and judge would have the opportunity to review a case, then they’d decide if it’s a drug- or alcohol-related case,” Glenwood Springs police chief Terry Wilson said.
The surcharge would apply only to municipal offenders, he added.
While the idea of a surcharge is new as it pertains to the detox center, the collection of surcharges for specific uses has occurred for years.
“The idea for a surcharge came out of work group sessions on how to generate funds for the detox center,” Wilson said. Session members first heard about the idea in Pitkin County Court, he added.
Also, Glenwood Springs has a Victim’s Assistance Law Enforcement, or VALE, surcharge for those found guilty in municipal court. The money is put into a fund and used to help victims of various crimes.
“It’s more like a per diem amount based on usage numbers,” Wilson said.
Lucid said collecting money through the municipal court system will help, but to really make a dent, the program needs to apply to those charged in county and district courts.
“A number of drug and alcohol offenses don’t go through municipal court. There will be some value, but in order for it to really make an impact, it needs to be done on other levels,” Lucid said.
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