County OKs drug court partnership

Fayette County will join Effingham County to comply with a new state law mandating a new way of handling many drug offenders.

The county board on Tuesday approved Fayette County State’s Attorney Stephen Friedel’s recommendation to become a part of Effingham County’s existing Drug Court Program.

Friedel explained to the county board that recent legislation mandates that each county have its own such program or partner with another county. He said the partnership with Effingham County seems to be this county’s best option.

“Option 1 is to create our own (drug court program), and that really is not a very good option,” Friedel said.

“We don’t have a lot of candidates for the program, and we would bear all of the costs of doing it,” he said.

“Option 2 is to ask for a two-year deferral (in deciding what to do), but I’m not sure what that two years buys us,” he said.

Another option is pursuing legal action against the state for implementing the mandate. That, Friedel said, is also not a good option.

He said that Effingham County has had its drug court program in place for two or three years, and has experienced success with it.

Through the mandate, counties may divert from the standard prosecution process individuals who are either arrested on drug charges or are charged in a case in which drug abuse is that person’s major underlying problem.

Friedel said those in the program can admit guilt without pleading guilty, agreeing to appear in court once a week, submit to drug testing three times a week and serve time in the county jail.

If a participant fails to meet all of those terms, Friedel said, he or she is then sent to regular court for a sentencing hearing.

Fayette County’s participation in the Effingham program will be paid for with fees collected by its probation department. “There is nothing out of the general fund,” Friedel said.

The probation office, a defense attorney or a judge may submit individuals for participation in the program, he said, but it is his office that has the final say on who’s admitted.

Also at the meeting, the board approved new health insurance coverage for county employees.

Board member Dean Bernhardt, chairman of the board’s insurance and personnel committee, said the committee was recommending that the county’s contribution toward individuals’ deductible be raised from $2,500 to $3,500.

That increase, he said, lowers the increase of the cost for the new insurance from 26 percent to 13 percent. With the coverage through Blue Cross Blue Shield, the county’s monthly is $35,248.24, up from $31,248.24.

The employees’ monthly cost for health insurance is increasing from $288.72 to $320.06.

Board Chairman Steve Knebel said going with this option is somewhat of a risk, talking about the county’s outlay of funds should all employees reach that $3,500 deductible.

“It was the best option,” Knebel said.

Board member Darrell Schaal said that while this may take care of insurance coverage for the time being, he wonders whether any long-range plans being discussed.

“Absolutely,” Knebel said, explaining that the board will be looking at payment caps when it negotiates with unions representing county employees.

Also at the meeting:

• The board approved a new three-year agreement with Dean Matzker for about 45 acres of land near the county highway garage on Ill. Route 185 northwest of Vandalia.

• Board member Loy Staff agreed to serve on the board’s CDAP (Community Development Assistance Program) committee. Staff fills the seat vacated by Lee Schaal, who chose not to run for re-election last fall.

The CDAP committee meets as needed to act on requests for CDAP funding. The county currently has about $35,000 available in its CDAP fund, according to County Treasurer Rose Hoover.

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