By Rich Cholodofsky:
Westmoreland Commissioner Doug Chew said he will pay for weekend drug tests of participants in the county’s drug court program until a permanent funding source is secured.
In an email sent to county judges over the weekend, the first-term Republican from Hempfield pledged to help identify future funding sources for the testing program and that he would pay to keep it running when a state grant runs out at the end of September.
“This may not be solved overnight, but until I can either get another grant approved or another funding source, I’ll cover the weekend program costs,” Chew wrote in an email to the two drug court judges and other county officials on Sunday.
Chew did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.
County officials learned late last week that a state grant to pay for the drug testing program, which expires at the end of September, will not be renewed. They estimated the drug testing program costs about $750 each weekend.
Common Pleas Court Judges Christopher Feliciani and Megan Bilik-DeFazio on Friday emailed all three county commissioners and asked for funding help to cover drug court’s lost grant and a specific request to use money from the county’s budget until another permanent funding source can be found.
“In light of this recent development, our participants will be at an increased risk of relapse in the absence of weekend drug testing. Continued funding of expanded drug testing is not only critical for the (drug court) participants, but also their families, employers and all who are dependent upon them remaining clean and sober,” the judges wrote.
Chew said over the weekend that he did not know about the terminated grant when he responded Friday to the Tribune-Review about his reasons for diverting promised donations to drug court.
During his 2019 campaign for county commissioner, Chew pledged to donate 60% of his $81,000 annual salary to drug court. That pledge amounts to $48,600 each year.
This summer, amid criticism from Controller Jeff Balzer during a public meeting, Chew admitted he has yet to make any donations to drug court. He said he donated to other social service agencies and charities in lieu of his drug court pledge and claimed his money was not needed since no plans were in place to increase the number of participants enrolled. Drug court has been capped at 60 participants for the last several years.
Emails and text messages obtained by the Tribune-Review under the state’s Right-to-Know law revealed there were no communications between Chew and the judges in which his initial promise to donate to drug court was rejected.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .