“If we don’t start at a local level, changing where the money is going now, we won’t change this nationally.”
JAMESTOWN – Nearly a dozen different people spoke to the Jamestown city council on Monday night asking city officials allocate a portion of the revenue the city receives from drug-related money and property forfeitures toward drug rehabilitation programming in the community. The group not only requested that city officials fund rehab programming, but also said they had a petition signed by more than 5,000 individuals who support the request.
Among those who spoke was local resident Chanda Germaine, who’s become a regional spokesperson and advocate for recovery.
“It would be amazing to see a change here because we have the ‘War on Drugs’ that we spend $50 billion a year on at a 90 percent failure rate, and about 85 percent of that money is going into law enforcement and our jails and institutions, but we only have about 15 percent that is going into treatment and prevention,” Germaine told the council members during the public comment portion of the meeting. “If we don’t start at a local level, changing where the money is going now, we won’t change this nationally. More people are going to die and kids like mine are going to grow up in a world where drug addiction is normalized.”
Joining Germaine was Richie Webber, an Ohio resident who’s been in recovery for three years. Webber has been working with different groups and communities around the country, encouraging elected officials to give 50 percent of all assets that’s been confiscated by police from drug-related arrests to local rehab efforts.
“We obviously have a huge heroin epidemic across the United States of America,” Webber said. “There are thousands and thousands of people who are dying. So the idea behind this petition is to use seized drug dealer assets from money, cars – anything they have when they are arrested and busted – to use 50 percent of that money and to use it for treatment, because a huge problem that we have is 9 out of every 10 addicts that need help, they don’t get it.”
Webber also noted that a community on Long Island had already committed 50 percent of its seized drug assets to go toward rehab services and he’s hoping other New York communities will follow.
Joining Webber and Germaine were individuals from both the local area as well as from Ohio, all of whom had been personally affected by the opioid epidemic and wanted to share their stories with city council members.
In response to the request by Webber and others, Jamestown Police Chief Harry Snellings explained that a portion of drug asset forfeiture money is already going to rehab efforts.
“Of all our asset forfeitures, New York State takes 40 percent right off the top. The other 25 percent goes to the [County] District Attorney’s Office and the other 35 percent stays locally,” Snellings explained. “Out of the 40 percent the state keeps, it gets dispersed into certain areas, one of them being OASAS – the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. Within that organization, there’s money that goes toward treatment and prevention. So there’s asset forfeiture already going towards that.”
Snellings also explained that the city’s isn’t receiving a lot of money from drug asset forfeitures and what it does receive goes toward the on-going effort to fight drug trafficking, which includes using money to make undercover purchases from local dealers as well as helping to buy equipment and vehicles. And because the state already provides funding for drug rehab, he doesn’t support giving half the local share to the effort.
“I would never support 50 percent off the top because I think there is a misunderstanding on how it works and how much actually comes to us. For three quarters of 2017, our reimbursement was $3500. So to take 50 percent, it would just crush the smaller police agencies,” Snellings told the council members.
Following the meeting, several city council members thanked the group for coming forward and encouraged them to continue raising awareness about the need for better and more affordable drug rehabilitation options in the community.
As for rehabilitation services in Jamestown, the clinical services are offered by UPMC Chautauqua WCA Hospital, which recently received a $700,000 state grant to expand the number of long-term patient beds by 20. The local Mental Health Association also offers peer-to-peer support services and receives its funding through state and federal grants along with local donations.
Jamestown city government does not have any office or department that deals with health. Instead, that is covered by the Chautauqua County Department of Health and Human Services. Due to recent financial challenges, the city also doesn’t allocate funding to any outside agency, other than the Prendergast Library and the Fenton History Center – which is housed in the Fenton Mansion, a city-owned property and as a result the city is responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of that building.
City council president Marie Carrubba also encouraged them to bring their message to both the county and the state, which have agencies and departments in place to address public health issues, including drug rehabilitation.
“Since the county does fund mental health services in a number of ways and has a number of programs and have received a number of grant funds, I would encourage [the group] to reach out to the county since they do have a lot of control on how the funds are allocated,” Carrubba said.
Following the meeting and after hearing from city officials, Germaine said that while she understands their response, she also feels that change should take place at the local level and she will continue urging officials to use their position to improve rehab options in the community.
“I’m appreciative because I know a lot of them and a lot of them have been affected by this,” Germaine said, adding, “But do I think that we could still stand up as a local community? Absolutely. I’m not going to stop until we do. I understand that we can go to the state level, which we will do, but this is not the end.”
Germaine said she and the others are already working on bring their request to both the county and state officials in the coming weeks.