ELIZABETHTOWN - Essex County may have to re-evaluate the way it uses a fund specifically meant for deterring drunk drivers.
The Essex County Finance Committee passed two separate resolutions at its meeting July 20 to allocate a total of $30,000 from the county's STOP DWI fund to pay for police cruisers in both the Lake Placid and Moriah Police Departments.
While discussing the resolutions, Finance Committee chair Thomas Scozzafava, supervisor of Moriah, said he was one of a handful of county officials who recently met with Richard Devlin, chair of the State Traffic Safety Board, which is the agency that oversees the use of STOP DWI funds.
One main concern voiced by Devlin was that the contracts used to appropriate the funds to municipalities were not properly detailing the criteria for using STOP DWI funds, said Scozzafava; a concern that the group agreed to address.
"So there's going to be a lot more accountability for Lake Placid, Moriah, Ticonderoga, or any municipality that receives STOP DWI funds," Scozzafava said.
Although the vehicles wouldn't have to be exclusively used for STOP DWI, County Manager Daniel Palmer explained, they do have to show a record of being frequently used for that purpose.
"Our police departments need to log when they're on DWI patrol," said Scozzafava, adding that quarterly reports would have to be filed to prove the vehicle was primarily being used to address DWI infractions.
By virtue of a law adopted in 1980, each county in New York State is allotted a STOP DWI fund, which is a collection of mandatory fines imposed for DWI and similar offenses within the county. The county budget estimates about $87,500 each year for the fund.
Each county is required to have a designated STOP DWI coordinator, and an advisory board for the fund is strongly recommended. Essex County has operated without an advisory board for more than a decade, but Scozzafava urged other supervisors to consider re-instituting one.
Schroon Lake Supervisor Cathy Moses inquired about using STOP DWI funds for community events, such as one that was held in her town recently. County Attorney Dan Manning stressed that such an event would have to be exclusively centered around preventing drunk driving.
Essex County District Attorney Julie Garcia said an advisory board would be useful in helping to determine appropriate uses for the funds, and that the event put on in Schroon Lake was an example that deserved more scrutiny.
"This is one of those things [the Traffic Safety Board sees] as being egregious spending," she said, claiming that the town filed a $10,000 voucher for the event, which featured fireworks and live entertainment. Moses said the amount was significantly lower.
Garcia added STOP DWI funds could not be used for events simply because they're promoted as being non-alcoholic.
"It just doesn't make sense," said Garcia, stressing events would need to have a clear anti-DWI message for attendees. "I think the educational component is the most important."
Committee members voted unanimously for the approval of the police vehicle expenses, which amounted to $10,000 for the Lake Placid Police Department and $20,000 for the Moriah Police Department.