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Meth Task Force may shut down due to lack of funding

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By PETER SAWYER

The war on meth as we know it is in jeopardy.
Methamphetamine plagues Tennessee, including areas such as Campbell County. Over the past 12 years, the Tennessee Meth and Pharmaceutical Task Force has equipped local law enforcement to clean up meth labs. However, due to a lack of federal funding, the TMPTF might not be able to provide services after this year.
Tennessee has ranked among the top five states in meth for the last 10 years, and has been in the top three over the last five years, TMPTF director Tommy Farmer said. In 2010, Tennessee was number one in meth. Over 1,700 meth labs were found in Tennessee in 2012.
“We’re dealing with a national epidemic,” Farmer said. “And we’re doing it on a local level. We’ll do the work, we just need help.”
A lot of Tennessee’s meth seizures happen in Campbell County.
“Campbell County is one of the top counties in the state as far as meth goes,” LaFollette Police Chief Jimmie Jeffries said.
“Your region sees more lab seizures than just about any region in the state,” Farmer said.
To combat meth, the Tennessee Meth and Pharmaceutical Task Force has been in operation for 12 years. The TMPTF is a state organization that provides equipment, resources and funding to local law enforcement for meth clean up.
“It’s an organization of its own,” Jeffries said.
Prior to its inception in 1999, the majority of meth lab seizures were conducted by the DEA, Farmer said. Through the TMPTF, which has been funded federally, the state and local government provides the manpower for meth lab seizures. The TMPTF provides local law enforcement with services such as training, equipment, certification and 24-hour support. The TMPTF provides much of the equipment necessary for meth lab seizures, and even reimburses local law enforcement for overtime.
“They provide everything we need to work meth labs, and we provide the man power,” Jeffries said. “Everything’s done uniform. It’s already set up. It’s already working. It works good. It would be bad if it stopped working and we had to start over again.”
However, local law enforcement may lose the network of support provided by the TMPTF. Until 2010, the TMPTF received federal dollars from congressional awards for field operations funding.
“Those things have gone to the wayside,” Farmer said. “We have not received a federal congressional award since 2010.”
While federal dollars have ceased, the state has provided some funds.
Last year, Rep. Dennis Powers asked the finance chairman to set aside $750,000 for meth cleanup.
“We did receive a small amount from the governor’s office through the ‘I Hate Meth’ act,” Farmer said.
The TMPTF’s funding would have been exhausted by now if it hadn’t been for state allocations, but it was able to make cuts and stretch its money.
However, it costs about $3 million a year to maintain the TMPTF services.
 “The bottom line, we are set to exhaust our funding by Dec. 1 of this year,” Farmer said. “We’ve been doing more with less, and we’ve reached initial breaking point.”
The TMPTF can sustain itself through December. However, unless it receives more money by June, there’s no hope for the rest of the year, Farmer said.
“It’s going to take a few months to ramp things down,” Farmer said.
 “After January, if we don’t receive any new funding (state or federal), we will have to start shutting systems down which will have an impact on local law enforcement,” Farmer said.
“If the task force were to close its door, all of those services would have to be turned over to the cities and counties,” Farmer said. “They would have start up costs.”
“I don’t know what the answer is,” Jeffries said. “But if we don’t do something, it will be the people in Campbell County that end up footing the bill for these things. It’s not a burden the city can afford.”
Jeffries wants to begin a public awareness campaign to help continue the TMPTF so the funding will continue. He began by mentioning the problem to the LaFollette City Council. He also wants to get Powers, State Senator Ken Yager and U. S. Congressman Chuck Fleischmann involved.
The state budget year began July 1, 2012 and ends June 30. The General Assembly usually begins working on the state’s budget in April. If federal dollars don’t come to the TMPTF this year, Powers intends to again ask the finance chair to include money in the budget for meth cleanup.
“It’s a good thing and it works and it would be a shame to see it go away,” Jeffries said. “It will impact everyone. Everybody needs to realize, if this goes away, we’ll still need to clean up meth labs. And the money will need to come from our local government.”
“I know these are tough times,” Farmer said. “But there are just some expenses out there. We just don’t have a choice. I wish I could just wave my magic wand and make it all go away. There are not two other significant threats to out communities than those two categories (meth and pharmaceutical labs). They are killing us.”