Thursday, December 18, 2014
   
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County eyes drug testing

Attorney says policies will likely need to begin at state level.

LEXINGTON—Doling out tax dollars to help pay expenses of Dawson County residents who find themselves between a rock and a hard place is one thing.

Paying rent, utility or medical bills for someone who has reached poverty level due to drug addiction is another.

Dawson County commissioners would like to cut general assistance funding to applicants who test positive for drugs.

But county attorney Liz Waterman told commissioners, during their regular bimonthly meeting on Monday, the logistics of setting up drug tests for applicants is not impossible, just more difficult than adding a urinalysis to qualifying criteria.

“I personally believe people in poverty due to drug abuse shouldn’t be eligible for county aid,” Waterman said. “But from a practical standpoint, I don’t know how to do that.”

There are no stipulations in state statutes that allow drug testing as a qualifying criteria to receive financial assistance, Waterman said.

General aid paid by the county is based on poverty and the county contracts with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services to administer the program.

Often recipients are waiting for acceptance into HHS programs and have no means to pay bills in the meantime.

Sometimes, HHS services don’t cover expenses.

The county paid roughly $16,000 in aid over the last fiscal year for residents who either didn’t qualify for HHS assistance or who were waiting on program approval.

General assistance bills reached $175,000 the previous year, due to one county general assistance recipient with unusually high medical bills.

“County aid is a last resort,” Waterman said. “If these people become ineligible for HHS services due to an action or inaction, then they are ineligible for county aid as well.”

Drug testing is not currently required for HHS assistance.

“I believe the biggest hurdle would be when the urinalysis would be administered and at what point that becomes applied to eligibility,” Waterman said. “Sometimes assistance involves whole families. Do you say no to the whole family if one member has a bad UA?”

Although commissioners agreed it is an issue they’d like to pursue, Waterman said state statutes may need to change first.

“Personally, I don’t think it’s doable (at the county level),” she said.

In other business, commissioners:

  • heard the monthly crime report from Sheriff Gary Reiber stating there were 1,505 calls to dispatch in the month of July with 944 calls for service and 163 new inmate bookings.
  • authorized Don Anthony of rural Lexington to install a driveway and culvert onto his farm ground as long as it allows for proper drainage away from the road.
  • accepted a bid for $16,000 annually for the next three years of audits by the state auditor’s office. The other bid received for the annual county audit was from previous contract holder Countryman Associates of Lexington for $20,500 plus $8,000 for single account audits. “It’s not that we’re unhappy with what we’ve had,” said board chairman Dean Kugler. “It’s just that we have to look at the dollars.”
  • received the annual inventories from county offices.
  • approved a resolution and purchase agreement for the Nebraska Department of Roads to buy the county’s annual federal bridge and highway allocations, returning 80% for road maintenance and repair.
  • voted to continue an agreement with MGT of America for cost-allocation plan services.
  • changed the regular Sept. 15 meeting to Sept. 16 to allow commissioners to attend state meetings.

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