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MAYORS VOTE TO SAVE DUI BLOOD TESTING

Salt Lake County mayors voted Thursday to take emergency measures to save a blood analysis program vital to hundreds of critical drunken-driving prosecutions.

They acted after Dr. Harry L. Gibbons, director of the Salt Lake City-County Health Department, warned that lack of funding would force him to eliminate the program that provides the technicians who draw blood from accident victims.Lack of funding is also jeopardizing the health department's noxious weed enforcement, water quality, gasoline storage tank inspection and health education programs, but no emergency measures exist to save them, Gibbons said.

Although the health department's $13 million budget for 1992 is 7 percent bigger than last year's, all of the increase went into mandated health programs, resulting in a net budget decrease, Gibbons explained.

"Our budget has been cut tremendously," he said, adding that the reduction forces him to trim several important and popular - but not mandated - programs.

The drunken driving blood analysis service, for example, was funded by the Salt Lake County attorney's office until June 1991. Gibbons said his department has been "carrying" the $70,000-per-year program for six months even though he considers it a "law enforcement/prosecution function."

But since neither the courts nor the county attorney will fund the service, the cities and the county must find an alternate funding method, Gibbons told the valley's mayors during a meeting of the Salt Lake County Council of Governments.

Gibbons said department technicians draw blood from about 700 accident victims each year at a cost of $52 each. The service is necessary to determine whether an injured victim had been drinking, and the results are used in DUI prosecutions.

"You're shifting the responsibility from the county level to the city level, and the major beneficiaries of this service are not the muncipalities," argued South Salt Lake Mayor Jim Davis. "I think it makes more sense to ask the County Commission to fund it."

West Jordan Mayor Kenneth A. Miller agreed, saying, "We need to make clear that it's a countywide function."

West Jordan Police Chief Ken McGuire noted part of the $60 fine assessed against convicted drunk drivers is supposed to pay for blood-alcohol analysis, "but no one knows where that assessment really goes . . . it goes back into the state budget somewhere."

Jack DeMann, executive assistant to Murray Mayor Lynn Pett, suggested that the council take steps to find out where the DUI fines actually go and why they are not funding the health department's program.

Alta Mayor Bill Levitt supported the fact-finding mission, but suggested that the mayors step in to rescue the program for 90 days while searching for a permanent funding source. They also voted to ask the County Commission to revisit the issue.

Earlier this week, commissioners were asked by Pett to also reconsider their decision to cut funding from the health department's water quality division.

In a letter to county officials, Pett said the decision "will seriously deprive the county and its individual municipalities of the invaluable service . . . at the time when the EPA stands poised to issue additional mandates on water issues and is, in fact, already doing so."

Salt Lake County has just begun to feel the effects of water quality problems, especially along the Jordan River, he said.

"What Murray and Midvale are discovering about the vast impacts on the river by the Midvale smelter and Sharon Steel sites and what that implies for us in the way of mitigation, regulation, oversight and immense demands of time, resources and capital by EPA is staggering."

Pett predicted that the county will regret its decision within 18 months.

At the suggestion of Commissioner Mike Stewart, the water qaulity funding will be reconsidered later this month during a budget review session.

Gibbons is not entirely satisfied. The DUI service will continue for now and water quality funding may be found, but the department's budget will still suffer this year. The public will notice it, he said.

"Take our weed enforcement," he said. "We get hundreds of complaints about weeds in empty lots, and we won't have the funds to handle them. And that's just one of the areas we are having to cut."