Jefferson County will have to add at least one staff member to implement a new drunken driving law, but officials are trying to avoid adding four or five.
The law, enacted in November, is the Child Passenger Protection Act, or Leandra's Law. It makes drunken driving with children under age 16 in a vehicle a felony.
But the law also requires all drivers convicted of driving while intoxicated to equip their vehicle for at least six months with an ignition interlock device that can detect alcohol in a person's system. The law went into effect Dec. 18 and counties must submit their implementation plans by Tuesday.
In Jefferson County, the Probation Department will oversee the program. Edward E. Brown, probation director, explained the plan Tuesday night to members of the county Board of Legislators' General Services Committee.
"We've already been working with ignition interlock devices for certain offenders," Mr. Brown said. "And we've had good success."
To monitor compliance with court orders, coordinate installation and removal and make reports on the cases, the department will ask for an additional employee and upgrade of an officer to senior probation officer, at a cost of up to $40,798. About $2,500 is covered by a stipend for a probation officer to oversee the Stop-DWI program.
But that's a best-case scenario if judges don't sentence those convicted of DWIs to probation at a higher rate than they already do. The simpler, and less costly, option for the county is if judges instead give conditional discharges.
In 2008, the county had 296 DWI convictions, but only 70 were put on probation. Probation requires presentencing investigations and regular supervision. Conditional discharges and probation both require the department to share information on how to get an ignition interlock device, ensure the device is installed, monitor compliance and notify the court when the sentence is successfully completed, among other tasks.
"It is entirely dependent on sentencing," Mr. Brown said. "If the courts are not comfortable with conditional discharges, I don't have the staff to handle probation for all of them."
The county has talked with local judges to help them understand the options.
"A conditional discharge would be used more for a first-time offender," he said. "On this offense, 90 percent don't reoffend."
Those who are convicted of a violation, driving while ability impaired, do not need the device.
Legislator Robert D. Ferris, R-Watertown, owns Big Apple Music, which is a local installer of the ignition interlock devices. The county does not decide who installs the devices.
"It is very expensive to have these interlock devices put in and maintained," he said. "Can the county collect a fee to support the program?"
Mr. Brown said, "We have no authority to collect those types of fees. We can collect DWI supervision fees, but that would have to go through a resolution."
Legislator Scott A. Gray, R-Watertown, asked what the fees could total.
"I would like more information on that," he said.
"One reason we haven't pursued it in the past is just because DWI offenders are hit so hard financially anyway," Mr. Brown said. "But we've asked judges to be very, very picky about who they give waivers to."
Waivers forgive offenders the cost of the interlock device, which usually totals about $150 to install and $100 per month in maintenance. The fees go to the manufacturer.
The county will address the added cost in the 2011 budget discussions.
"The challenge is no one knows what the implementation cost will be," County Administrator Robert F. Hagemann III said. "Only time will tell whether we've overestimated or underestimated the cost."