|The Campbell County Fiscal Court will hold a meeting tonight in Alexandria at 7:00 p.m. A resolution to vote on needle exchange will be on the agenda.|
Commissioners Brian Painter, Tom Lampe and Charlie Coleman, along with Judge Executive, Steve Pendery, will be charged with making the vote.
The Kentucky General Assembly passed the "the heroin bill" in March of 2015 which passed the buck to local governments to set up local option needle exchanges. Those exchanges require approval from county and city governments.
A nearly-five hour meeting took place on April 20th in Newport, where health professionals and residents made their case for and against a needle exchange within the county. Health professionals were overwhelmingly on the side of establishing a needle exchange, whereas the majority of opposition came from members of the Campbell County Tea Party.
Pendery has been on record since the legislature passed Senate Bill 192, that he was for the county bringing a needle exchange to Campbell County.
“The fact that the legislature voted for anything remotely resembling a needle exchange, local-option or not, is astonishing. It happened because (legislators) got the facts and the facts were clear. Needle exchanges are a good thing,”
Campbell County Judge Executive Steve Pendery told FTM in June of 2015.
Lampe, who sits on the St. Elizabeth Healthcare Board and has also been on board with the idea of a needle exchange for over a year, says that he's listened to healthcare officials on the issue and will vote yes.
Coleman, who has written an op-ed opposing the exchanges, said that he believes the majority of Campbell Countians he's talked to do not want needle exchanges in their county and the plans fail to take needles off the street.
"For the past year I have canvased Campbell County residents as to their opinion on needle exchange. Although not scientific, overwhelmingly Campbell Countians have told me “no” to the Needle Program."
In Campbell County, it's been thought that Commissioner Brian Painter would be the swing vote on the issue. He said in 2015 that he was open to a conversation and had spoken to the Campbell County Tea Party about their concerns about the program later that year.
He said he's taking his cue on his vote, among other items, from an up-and-down tax levy vote in 1981 that passed in the county. The vote indicated that the county would help fund the county's mental health and intellectual disability fund.
"We had a clear mandate from our county voters in 1981 to take care of those who have mental health and intellectual disabilities. When people tax themselves, they are serious about getting something in return and we have distinct directions here," he said. "If all we are doing is paying for our health care in jail, we aren't going to be able to do the things we need to do as a county, like paving our roads. We have to protect the county coffers from those that are partaking in behaviors that are spreading disease in our county."
While the ordinance from the 1981 tax levy is on the books in Campbell County, the language of how the ballot initiative was worded wasn't recorded by Fiscal Court.
According to County Administrator, Matt Elberfeld, several people have asked for that information, without success. "Fiscal Court doesn't keep election (information)," he said in an email to FTM. "We've talked to the Secretary of State, County Clerk's Office, and library to see if anyone has a copy and haven't had any luck."
Painter said a private grant from the R.C. Durr Foundation will help pay for the needle exchange, so that the county could be protected from, as he puts it, "excessive claims."
Kenton County and Covington passed an ordinance in March after Grant County and Williamstown passed an ordinance in February of this year. Kenton's ordinance mandated that at least three Northern Kentucky counties offer an exchange.
With Painter and Lampe on board, it looks like Kenton and Campbell will be in lockstep to join Grant County as Northern Kentucky cities to offer a needle exchange program.
The details of the exchange will be hashed out at the meeting, but one clear distinction between the two counties could be the location of the exchange.
Kenton County's will operate as a mobile unit just three hours week. Painter said that he was initially in favor of a mobile unit on St. Elizabeth's Newport campus, but he couldn't build a consensus on that.
"The devil is in the details," he said. "We're counting on our health department officials to help guide this decision because it's a local mental health issue. The fact of the matter is there were great conservatives that have already passed the exchange in Kenton County and it's time we look at doing the same in Campbell County."
Commissioner Coleman said that he's heard proposals that the needle exchange would be at the county health department, located in the Newport Fiscal Court Building on Monmouth Street.
"The building was constructed for conducting county business. The County Clerk, Sheriff, PVA, Planning and Zoning, Housing Department, Occupational Business and Fiscal Court offices are all located here. It is not uncommon for citizens to bring their children with them when they get their automobile license or pay taxes," he said. "Should Campbell County citizens and their children be exposed to potential overdose situations at the County building?"
Even with the measure expected to pass at the county level, the next hurdle could be at the city level, where the Newport City Commission will debate the issue.
Commissioners John Hayden, Beth Fennell, Tom Guidugli, Frank Peluso and Mayor Jerry Peluso, will have the final say in Campbell County if the proposal from the Fiscal Court holds true on location.
Some issues that could be discussed at the Newport Commission, other than the location, could be the use of retractable needles or the amount of needles required to be returned for needles to be distributed.
The meeting tonight will be at 7:00 p.m. at the Campbell County Courthouse in Alexandria.