TAWAS CITY – The Iosco County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution to increase the cost of drug testing by the Iosco County Sheriff’s Office to match that of a local drug testing business, Northern Michigan Drug Screening of East Tawas.
The voting on the measure, however, was not unanimous as Commissioners John Moehring and Charles Finley voted against the measure, which was created to not compete with the local business. The drug testing is conducted by both agencies is done on citizens after it is mandated by the court, and is sometimes done on individuals once a week. The action took place during the commissioner’s July 17 meeting.
Commission Chairman Robert Huebel said county officials, Sheriff Allan MacGregor and business operator Timothy Gronda all sat down to discuss the pricing issue, which Gronda had complained about as unfair business practices, taking business away from his drug testing company. MacGregor said the sheriff department has been conducting the drug tests, 24 hours a day, at the same cost for nearly 20 years, however.
Commissioner Terry Dutcher said with the meetings a conclusion was reached on the matter.
“I did some research myself (spoke to everyone) as well as the mandated drug testing, there is no mandate (that the sheriff department does drug testing), but it’s essential part of their tool kit in fighting crime, and keeping the public safe,” he said.
Dutcher went on to say that the commissioners set county fees for services and he believed if they did not meet the price of the private sector that it would be a breach of antitrust laws. Dutcher then recommended that the board raise the rate for drug testing from $20 to $30 in a resolution. He was seconded by Vice Chairman Donald “Jay” O’Farrell.
“I think this resolution basically establishes a level playing field for the private sector and the sheriff department,” Dutcher said.
Before the vote, however, there was discussion on whether it was right to change the pricing. Finley asked whether there would be a need for the sheriff department to even do the testing. MacGregor said his office is trying to provide a need for the public, and has been doing it for nearly 20 years well before the drug testing company was in business.
“It is something the courts want us to do,” he said. “Judge Martin wants us to do it.”
Finley said he didn’t agree with raising the fees for members of the community that must get the testing.
“How is it going to affect the community out there for the community that already gets it for $20?” he asked. “Do we have the best interests of the community in raising it?”
MacGregor said the board has always accepted the recommendations from the various county departments for the services being provided, but said that this time it was not happening and it was confusing to him. He said the sheriff department should just continue what it has been doing for years in drug testing.
He added that the business conducted by Northern Michigan Drug Screening for court ordered drug testing was only a small portion of the business that they do, which included periodic drug testing for various large area businesses.
Also, MacGregor said those who must have court ordered drug testing are often at the lowest part of their life, and have other court fines and costs that are already creating financial hardships for them as they work to get their lives back on track, MacGregor said.
O’Farrell said maintaining the county’s current drug testing rate would be putting local businesses out of businesses to maintain the $20 fee.
“If they expand their drug testing capabilities and start putting private businesses where they can’t make money in their own hometown the sheriff department will not be able to pick up the slack, to put them on an uneven playing field is unreasonable,” he said.
O’Farrell was also unsympathetic to those who must undergo court ordered drug testing.
“If they want to save money don’t get involved (in drugs or alcohol) in the first place, don’t get arrested; I wouldn’t have a problem charging them $50,” O’Farrell said. “Save yourself a lot of money; it’s like quite smoking cigarettes, when the price when up for a pack of cigarettes a lot of people quit smoking.”
Huebel said he could see MacGregor’s point on the matter, wanting to run his department as he saw fit as an elected official, but said that as a business owner he could see how it was frustrating that a government entity is undercutting into profits that could be making.
MacGregor asserted that if anything the county is making too much profit on the drug testing, he said that according to figures even at a $20 rate the county is making a 40 percent profit on the drug testing they conduct for the court.
“We’re ripping people off,” he said.
Before the vote, Moehring asked Gronda how many in the community he does testing for. Gronda said around a few hundred and said he was frustrated with the county’s rate.
“We built this business on paper, now to an office, and employees that rely on testing, and when the government comes in and cuts your price, and starts to pull people toward them I took issue,” he said. “I just want to get some fairness and look at this.”
Gronda added that compared to other area drug screening companies, and compared to the national average, his business was much lower.
After the discussion the question was called on the motion, and the board voted 3-2 to increase the prices, with Finley and Moehring casting dissenting votes. MacGregor, after the meeting, said he vowed to not increase the prices despite the resolution saying that as an elected official he was going to do what he thought was right for the people that elected him into the position.