- Associated Press - Sunday, December 21, 2014

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico counties are not effectively spending funds from a DWI grant program to combat drunk driving, according to a new state legislative report.

The Legislative Finance Committee said in a study released this month that counties are wasting money from the Local DWI Grant program on strategies such as media campaigns and outreach. Committee members said officials should devote more funds to increased patrols and tougher prosecutions - methods that have evidence of working. Furthermore, the report argues most counties are not funding alcoholism treatment as required by state law.

Committee members also recommended more accountability for how counties spend the $18 million that annually comes from liquor excise taxes, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported (https://bit.ly/1Cp4RN6).

Some disagree and say there has been a sharp decrease in alcohol-related fatalities in the state in the last decade. Thomas Clifford, secretary of the state Department of Finance and Administration, said the grant program has led to significant contributions. In a letter to the committee, Clifford pointed out that alcohol-related deaths were down from 225 in 2002 to 132 in 2013, a 40 percent drop.

But advocates of drunk-driving prevention said more can be done as the decline seems to be stagnating. Linda Atkinson, executive director of the Albuquerque-based DWI Resource Center, said she agrees with the legislative committee’s evaluation. It seems like more money is being spent on “gadgets, T-shirts and fans,” Atkinson said.

“How many lives will be saved by putting up a billboard? Research would tell you zero,” Atkinson said.

Rachel O’Connor, Santa Fe County’s Health and Human Services Division director, said the state should be clearer about the standards for spending in the grant program. The funds were initially for preventing DWI offenses but also now apply to reducing alcoholism. Spending on alcoholism treatment doesn’t necessarily prevent DWI incidents. But putting dollars toward treatment is state law, she added.

“Counties are torn between using evidenced-based strategies for DWI and evidence-based strategies to reduce alcoholism,” O’Connor said. “There’s a lot of disagreement about what that means.”

The report also includes new spending proposals. Among them is having state finance and health officials identify counties that are high-risk for DWI. Also, the council that distributes the program’s funds should mandate that at least 50 percent of a grant go toward programs that have proven to help reduce DWIs.

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Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, https://www.sfnewmexican.com


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