Drug Money Tug Of War: Sheriff V. Commissioner

12:26 AM, Feb 13, 2013   |    comments
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Greensboro, NC -- There's a tug of war of sorts in Guilford County over drug money.

We're talking about the money the Guilford County Sheriff's Office has confiscated during drugs busts, and now, legally belongs to the sheriff.

However, some Guilford County commissioners want to tell Sheriff B.J. Barnes how he should use it.

Guilford County commissioners could be looking at a $40 million budget gap this year.

So, they're looking at every possible way to fill it. And the sheriff's federal forfeiture fund has caught their attention.

"We have $665,000 in federal forfeiture funds, why not use some of that to operate our new jail facility? Obviously, our operating cost has gone up, and that right there could certainly help our budget situation. It can't cure all," said County Commissioner Bruce Davis.

Sounds simple, but Barnes says not so fast.

Barnes said there are specific rules, laid out by the federal government, about how his office can use that money.

"It can't be used to augment or supplement a budget. It has to be used for law enforcement in situations where they normally would not be able to purchase it, had it not been for these funds," said Barnes.

Barnes said, in his 18 years as Sheriff, his office has used about $4.5 million in drug money to buy new buildings, new guns, bullet-proof vests, pay for undercover investigations to catch more criminals, and the list goes on.

His concern is, the money cannot be used for any re-occurring cost.

If it is, Barnes is the one who could get in trouble for it. He would also have to re-pay the $4.5 million his office has already used.

Barnes already asked commissioners if he could use the drug money to buy segways for school resource officers traveling between the middle and high schools.

Commissioners shot him down.

If Barnes doesn't spend the money, the feds take it back.

But with a $40 million budget deficit, Davis said they have to use the drug money for pressing needs.

Davis said county departments have already made cuts. They can't cut anything else from their budgets, so commissioners are already looking at tough decisions.

"Now you're down to the bones. So, all the fat is gone. So, if we're not willing to increase the taxes, then we're going to have to cut personnel," said Davis.

WFMY News 2 also spoke with Commissioner Carolyn Coleman on Tuesday.

Coleman said she doesn't think there are enough votes for a tax increase, so she thinks commissioners will likely be talking major layoffs.

Coleman said they'll probably start talking more about it at the commissioners' work session next Thursday.

WFMY News 2

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