Use of DWI fund draws scrutiny

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.

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