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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sirens & Gavels

A closer look at budget woes facing Spokane Regional Drug Task Force

UPDATE: County officials say the Regional Drug Task Force is "fully funded" through 2015, and any budgetary issues would not rear their heads until next year.

"The County’s portion of the Drug Task Force is fully funded for 2015.  In very general terms it is supported 25% General Fund and 75% seizure/grant money," wrote Marshall Farnell in an email to county commissioners today.

Farnell added that there are "no plans" to disband the task force this year.

Original story follows:

Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich put pressure on county leaders yesterday to fund the Spokane Regional Drug Task Force, a multi-agency unit responsible for several recent narcotics busts in the area.

At a news conference, Knezovich said the task force faces possible disbanding by June if $250,000 isn't added to its budget. Knezovich made a similar pitch to county commissioners in November, which was met with some uneasiness. Several area TV news stations ran stories last night as a result of the news conference, including KREM, KXLY and KHQ.

The backdrop of Knezovich's call for more money from county commissioners, who are wary to add money to the Sheriff's Office budget until binding arbitration is completed over back pay for deputies dating back three years, is a call by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to drastically scale back a federal money-sharing program that distributed cash taken from suspected criminals.

The Washington Post launched a six-part investigative series late last year that questioned the methods employed by local law enforcement used in asset seizure. The fourth part of that series dealt specifically with the Equitable Sharing program, the technique targeted by Holder and responsible for much of the Spokane Regional Drug Task Force's bottom line over the past several years.

The Post also published its reports from various law enforcement agencies, listing the amount of federal money they received form the program and what that money was spent on, obtained through a public records request. According to those reports, the drug task force received $807,506.31 between 2008 and 2013 for its operations from the Equitable Sharing program.

The reports also show the task force's expenses have grown considerably in the past several years. The group spent more than $30,000 on buy money for confidential informants in 2013, the same year the task force assisted in the break-up of a major OxyContin ring running out of California.

It remains to be seen whether the county or some other agency will pony up the cash necessary to keep the task force afloat. Knezovich has proposed a 0.2 percent sales tax increase in the county that he says would add $9 million to the kitty, enough to fund the task force and hire enough deputies to make up for belt-tightening that began in earnest in 2008.

Public safety news from the Inland Northwest and beyond.