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Social Services costs rising

Fri, Jan 19th, 2001
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Monday, January 22, 2001

Last Tuesday, the County Board heard from Social Services Director Tom Boyd about the rising cost of out of home placements. Boyd presented the board with a brief verbal report highlighted by a bar graph showing that the costs of placing children in correctional, foster care, and other temporary situations has risen from around $100,000 in 1993, to over $800,000 in 2000.

According to Boyd, the greatest increase in cost has come in the correctional category where costs rose over $220,000 in the past year. Boyd attributes these increased costs to the length of stay of the placements, and also to the type of facility where the children are being sent.

While the year-end report for the number of children placed by the county was not yet available, Boyd does not expect to see much of an increase in the numbers.

"The higher costs in correctional placements are (reflected) in the costs of the treatment programs and detention centers where children are sent," explained Boyd. "Some treatment facilities cost the county up to $150 per day."

The cost of placing children in foster homes has also risen significantly, increasing by four-fold to over $200,000 during the seven-year period. Much of the costs in this category are attributed to in-home family counseling costs incurred by county social service staff as they offer programs for re-training parents.

The commissioners listened attentively as Boyd explained that the Association of Minnesota Counties (AMC) is trying to get counties more state dollars to help with the placement costs. Fillmore County must bear the costs of out of home placements alone, receiving no funding assistance from the either the state or federal levels.

Board Chair Helen Bicknese acknowledged that perhaps a letter to the state legislators would be appropriate in lobbying for state assistance. There is some limited federal funding available for specific foster care situations.
Committee work

The new Commissioner of the Fifth District, Marc Prestby, reported to the board on some of his committee activities. As part of the Jail Committee, Prestby attended a tour of the new jail in Decorah, referring to the facility as "quite a complex for $2.4 million a pretty nice jail."

Commissioner Prestby also reported on his attendance at meetings of the Zumbro Valley Mental Health board and the Fillmore County Facilities Planning committee.

According to Prestby, the Facilities Planning committee, comprised mostly of citizens, is looking for direction from the board on what to do. Last fall, this committee recommended to the board that the county build a new courthouse near the Fillmore County Office Building, expanding on the county campus that also includes the jail and sheriffs office. The board has taken no action on that recommendation.

Assessors office

In other business, the board announced that its appointment of Robert Pickett as County Assessor had been confirmed by the Minnesota Department of Revenue.

First District Commissioner Randy Dahl introduced the subject of property value assessments to the board, asking that the board take up formal discussions on the assessment process and how it relates to increasing property taxes.

Dahl explained that some of his municipal constituents were dissatisfied with the recent assessments and the ensuing sharp rise in property taxes, and may consider doing their own assessments.

Acknowledging that the county Assessors office has a difficult job in a time of rising property values, Dahl asked the board to take up the tax issue in the near future.

The board put the subject on the February 5 agenda.

Mike McGrath

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