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Committee to take on counseling center debt
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Forsyth County News

Members of the Forsyth County Drug Alcohol Training Education Fund Committee agreed to buy off remaining debts from the accountability courts’ former provider, New Hope Counseling.

The D.A.T.E. Fund committee on Friday approved up to $20,000 to purchase outstanding accounts from the counseling and screening group, whose contract with Forsyth was terminated immediately after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation launched a search into the center’s finances in September.

Following a unanimous vote, the remaining debts owed by county accountability courts participants will be transferred to the county’s D.A.T.E. fund, said Jennifer Johnston, drug court coordinator.

“What we have decided to do is pay that debt our participants owed at the time the contract was severed; pay that in one lump sum to them,” Johnston said, “and then let the participants reimburse us for that debt versus New Hope trying to go after individuals.”

Participants in drug and DUI courts had paid New Hope directly for those services under the contract, said Forsyth County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Bagley.

Taking on the debt from those accounts allows the courts to have “a clean slate,” Bagley said.

“We’re operating under a different model now where we’re contracting individually with these private contracting counselors so that we are paying them directly for their services,” he said.

The participants then pay the courts to reimburse those costs, he said, which has been estimated at $60,000 for the remainder of the year after termination with New Hope.

“Those fees are not coming in quite yet,” Bagley said. “There’s going to be some lag time obviously.”

According to a report from GBI, the agency launched its investigation into the counseling center at the request of Enotah Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Raymond George, who stated New Hope bought equipment and supplies not provided to the accountability courts.

The director of the center, Christine Zurblis, was arrested Oct. 2 in Hall County and charged with two counts of false statements and one count of theft by taking. Zurblis also faces four counts of first degree forgery in Union County.

In the wake of the investigation, Forsyth County began the bid process for a new contract counseling provider. Seven firms have submitted proposals.

The committee applauded Johnston’s efforts in finding a quick solution to the contract’s termination.

Members agreed it was best to cut ties with New Hope immediately.

“The participants talk,” Bagley said. “They know what’s going on.”