Cost may outweigh program's benefits

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

BENTON, Mo. -- The Scott County Commission has already begun looking for ways to tighten its budgetary belt before a law enforcement sales tax expires next year. The first casualty might be a proposed random drug testing program.

Commissioners began exploring the implementation of a random drug testing program for all of the county's approximately 100 employees, with a plan of implementing the policy in the fall. While commissioners haven't yet ruled out a random program, they are saying such a program might cost more than the benefits to an employer that doesn't perceive a drug problem among its employees.

Random testing may not be worth the cost, said Commissioner Ron McCormick.

"The thinking is, why should we pay for something we don't think we need or we're going to need," said McCormick, adding that the commission hasn't ruled out random testing yet. McCormick said he isn't against the idea of random testing, though.

Commissioner Dennis Ziegenhorn said any discussion of drug testing has to be conducted in the context of coming budget cuts. Next year, a half-cent sales tax for law enforcement will expire, taking with it the approximately $1.6 million it brings into the county coffers every year. About half that money went to yearly bond payments on the county jail that was built in 2000.

"I'd like to do the whole thing, but we've just got to start doing some cuts. We just can't have everything," said Ziegenhorn. The commissioner said he supports the idea of random testing for all county employees, but there may not be enough money.

County developer Joel Evans, the official researching costs and testing programs, said he didn't want to release cost figures yet, because his research is ongoing. Evans will gather that information and present it to the commission soon.

The Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department spends about $2,000 to $2,500 per year on random testing of its employees.

Presiding Commissioner Jamie Burger said he hopes to have a program in place for the start of 2008. All three commissioners said the drug testing program will likely include pre-employment testing, testing for highway department employees who have special driver's licenses and testing in case of on-the-job injury.

Burger said he doesn't think the cost of random testing is too high for the number of employees, but "at the same time, I don't know how much money we're going to have."

Currently, highway department employees are tested per U.S. Department of Transportation guidelines, and Scott County Sheriff's Department employees undergo pre-employment testing.

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