County reduces library funding, expands drug treatment court
York County commissioners used their last meeting of the year to reduce the county's dedicated library tax and expand the drug treatment court.
About two dozen supporters of the county's library system showed up at the Dec. 20 meeting to voice their opposition to an ordinance that will reduce funding by about $300,000.
Since 2004, the county has dedicated 0.1 mills of its annual property tax collections to the library system, and the ordinance — which passed unanimously — reduces that amount to 0.09 mills.
The commissioners approved the county's 2018 budget during their Dec. 6 meeting with no tax increase, maintaining the real estate tax at 5.8 mills, which would equal $580 on a home assessed at $100,000.
Jackie Summers, former board chair of the library system, was one of a half dozen library supporters to speak during a public comment period ahead of the vote.
She said the reduced funding would have "a tremendous adverse affect" and suggested the commissioners include a sunset provision in the ordinance so that funding is restored to 0.1 mills in 2021.
President Commissioner Susan Byrnes said that the decision to reduce funding to the library system is not one the commissioners took lightly but that they're faced with difficult financial decisions and have already had to reduce funding to other community partners, including Downtown Inc and the Cultural Alliance of York County, in recent years.
County solicitor Glenn Smith reiterated that the decision is by no means a reflection of the commissioners' feelings toward the libraries but rather the result of a tough economic situation.
That tough economic situation has been exacerbated in recent years by a nationwide opioid and heroin epidemic, which Byrnes said will cost the county about $270,000 this year simply on autopsies for people who overdosed.
The county is working on several initiatives to slow the epidemic locally, and one of those initiatives is through a reclassification and expansion of the county's drug treatment court.
Drug court expansion: After the meeting room cleared following the library vote, the commissioners voted to approve two additional probation officers for drug treatment court, which will transition to heroin/opioid treatment court beginning in 2018.
April Billet-Barclay, the county's director of probation services, said the additional officers will allow the court to increase its capacity from 150 to 250 active participants.
The specialized court program, which has been around since 1997, allows drug offenders to avoid the prison system by sending them to treatment and through consistent monitoring of progress by probation officers and regular court visits.
Program participants are required to complete at least 12 months in the program to graduate, though most take at least 18 months, Billet-Barclay said.
She said the program receives about 35 applications per month, but some have been turned away over the past two years because it's always full.
The two new probation officers, who join three existing officers in the program, will cost the county about $140,000 per year, but Billet-Barclay said the savings far exceed the costs as they are able to divert offenders from jail and restore them as productive members of the community.
The recidivism rate of those who graduate from drug treatment court is about 20 percent, compared to about 44 percent overall throughout the probation department, Billet-Barclay said.
York County Court of Common Pleas Judge Craig Trebilcock will be taking over monitoring what will now be heroin/opioid treatment court with the retirement of Judge John Kennedy, who had been monitoring drug treatment court.
Billet-Barclay said current participants in the program for use of other drugs, primarily cocaine, will remain in the program until completion, but only those battling an opioid or heroin addiction will be admitted in the future.
Tim Barker, chief deputy prosecutor for the York County District Attorney's Office, said the county will be actively engaging the community in seeking public-private partnerships to further fund efforts to stymie the rise of the heroin and opioid epidemic.
— Reach David Weissman at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.