Hours after a news report indicated that Campbell County leaders were planning to add heroin treatment at a to-be-expanded jail, Kenton County leaders discussed a similar option.
A consistent debate has emerged at the Kenton County Fiscal Court where incumbent Judge-Executive Steve Arlinghas is being challenged in the May 20 Republican primary by current County Commissioner Kris Knochelmann. Arlinghaus has long favored a regional approach to combating the widespread use of heroin and has supported the regional task force being led by the Northern Kentucky Area Development District.
Knochelmann has argued that the county should move forward in exploring its own options independent of the NKADD effort.
"Whether or not we do something as just the county or we do it regionally, this is an example where Campbell County is stepping up to the plate," Knochelmann said Tuesday morning during the fiscal court meeting in Independence. "It sends the right message."
The topic was not on the agenda but emerged during commissioner comments when future budget planning meetings were being discussed.
Arlinghaus said that he has had preliminary discussions with County Jailer Terry Carl about doing some heroin treatment at the jail and added that he and jail officials have toured a vacant warehouse adjacent to the new detention center in South Covington. "I asked the jailer to look at that facility with us to see if the possibility exists to buy that building and expedite something and what that cost would be from the jailer's perspective," Arlinghaus said.
The possible plan may appear as a merger of Arlinghaus's and Knochelmann's arguments: moving forward on adding more heroin treatment beds in the county for Kenton residents in a new space that could also serve as the regional treatment facility once a plan is crafted by the task force evaluating possibilities for eight Northern Kentucky counties.
Arlinghaus has preliminarily allocated $1 million for the effort in the budget that will be discussed by the fiscal court in the coming weeks.
Knochelmann said he was surprised to hear of the new development. "My challenge with it is, we started talking about this in November and we're now sitting in April, so my concern is, if there's things going on, I think the communication needs to improve, and with other counties it needs to improve," Knochelmann said. "If we're going to do something together (with other counties) it is really a group effort and not just a budget issue but a take-action issue."
The members of the Kenton County Fiscal Court were also surprised by Campbell County's announcement, reported this week by the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Campbell County plans to expand its jail inside its former district court where treatment could be offered. The project would be financed by borrowing $2.5 million, according to the Enquirer.
Meanwhile, another option may exist in South Covington where a vacant parcel of land could become the site of a newly constructed treatment center. "Another option we've talked about with staff is the plateau up at the top where the current jail sits," Arlinghaus told The River City News. "It's a large, flat area there that realistically we could build a new facility."
If you are at the site of the jail and facing the building, the land sits directly to the left. Arlinghaus said the land would have to be tested to see if it can be built upon.
The plan crafted by the task force calls on Kenton County to spend $1.4 million in the regional effort. The $1 million proposed by Arlinghaus for a project near the jail is "a moving target number, a draft number", he said. The asking price for the existing building is $350,000, he said. No offer has been made.
"We have not agreed to a price," Arlinghaus said. The Judge-Executive said that funds from the county's sale of Rosedale Manor, a fund that still includes $8 million, could be used in the effort. "We I took office we had that $2.5 million deficit spending budget and we wanted to cut costs and we did. I did it without touching that left-over fund from Rosedale Manor," he said. "So far, we haven't had to tap into that $8 million. So we could draw from that to use the money for acquisition of the building and interior renovation work that would be necessary to remodel and to accommodate our needs."
"I think we need to discuss it," Knochelmann said. "I think that that was the first time, in the entire discussion of heroin, that (the South Covington warehouse) has been brought up to the fiscal court and it was brought up in a very 'here's-what-I'm-thinking-about (way)'. It really, to me, shows such lousy leadership."
"In and of itself, I think it's a great thing to think about in terms of a facility," Knochelmann said, adding that other options include an add-on at the jail or another existing space in Covington. But, "The way it was presented today was completely inadequate as to how we have to go about this."
"If it works out that that building in particular is a viable option and we can make the financial side of it work and we can become unified as a court to get it done, I think it could be one of the options we could move on."
Arlinghaus said that the detention center staff is working on putting various numbers and data together for the fiscal court to examine. The Kenton County Detention Center has become a de facto detox center in the wake of the regional heroin crisis as scores of people are arrested and housed there. "I think it will take us a good thirty to sixty days to get all that data plugged in to say, this is what we can do," Arlinghaus said. "We need to know full scale what the plan would be and how we would coordinate it. A lot of things need to happen."
Arlinghaus said that if it later becomes a regional facility, "great", but said that the worst case scenario would be all the counties doing their own thing. However, "At least we're doing something," he said.
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News
Photo: Property on Decker Crane Lane that may be targeted as a possible heroin treatment facility/RCN