County will hire staff for random drug, alcohol tests

by Paul Rignell

Contributing writer

The Sherburne County Board has authorized the county probation office to hire two additional part-time staff that will conduct random drug and alcohol testing both on persons serving probation and on defendants under pre-trial supervision.

The county contracts currently with an outside testing vendor, based in Minneapolis, and its agents visit the county government center in Elk River to conduct around 440 tests per month. J. Hancuch, Sherburne County probation director, told the Star News there are approximately 1,700 people now on probation based on sentences from the county courts, and another 150 who have agreed to random testing as a pre-trial condition.

Each of those offenders or defendants is assigned the name of a color as their name enters those rolls, and each is required to call a phone number daily where they might hear all persons in the “green” division or the “purple” division must visit the government center that day for testing. Persons have been required to submit to tests more than once per month through this system, Hancuch said.

An offender or defendant is required to pay a fee of $15 per test, and except for costs to cover supplies (for collecting samples of saliva and urine, for example), the other revenues from this program have always gone to the outside vendor. But with the county department now planning to have its own testing staff in place by 2013, officials are estimating the county could have up to $3,000 per month or at least $30,000 annually in additional revenue for its budget, after the costs are covered for supplies and new payroll.

Officials expect the new employees each would be working 30–35 hours per month, or maybe a little more for a maximum total of 80.

Sherburne County Health and Human Services has worked with the probation office’s outside vendor for testing some of its clients as well, Hancuch said, but will switch to utilizing the new county staff.

The probation director said the testing has required some county staff time in certain cases even with the vendor’s agents on site. Though they are charged an extra fee, some subjects will exercise a right to request a retest if initial results show drugs in their system but they maintain they have not been using. Probation officers are called to walk from one floor of the government center to the other for responding to any such instance, but the director said that step would not be needed when the county has its own testers.

“We’re trying to get the best service for the best price,” Hancuch said of the in-house move. “We take our positions very seriously, and we’re always trying to save money, trying to do things for the interests of the taxpayers.”

The positions will pay $12.44 hourly, without benefits, and remain open to applicants through Dec. 9 on the county website.

Applicants must be a minimum age of 21 and hold a high school diploma or its equivalent.