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Sentence To Serve amended

Fri, Sep 12th, 2008
Posted in Government

Sheriff Daryl Jensen addressed the county board with some good news at their September 9 meeting. The Sentence To Serve (STS) program, praised by Jensen as the first successful program to help people work off fines and time while providing a valuable service to the community, will be extended. Funding cuts made by the state legislature during their last session reduced their share needed to support the program.

Jensen explained that the total crew cost of $71,612 for the period July 1, 2008, to June 30, 2009, will be funded with $6,165.38 coming from each of the cities of Spring Valley and Rushford, $19,000 through the DNR, 31,329.74 from Fillmore County, and nearly $9,000 from the state Department of Corrections (DOC). Jensen added that the contract for 2010 and 2011 will not include any DOC funding. Rushford expects to pay their share with FEMA money. The STS did a significant amount of work for Rushford during the aftermath of the 2007 flood.

STS crews have helped in state parks, worked on trails, in fisheries, and in both Spring Valley and Rushford. Jensen informed the board that he does not yet have all the contracts from the various government units in hand. The DNR and the cities of Spring Valley and Rushford which are to provide funds will get priority on their projects, but will not have control of the program.

Commissioner Chuck Amunrud commented that the county actually opens up jail beds by allowing inmates to work off sentences, reducing time and fines. He praised the program, saying that everyone benefits. Jensen said that we have a good crew leader who in turn has a good relationship with the DNR and the communities.

Jensen referred to a recent informational program that he, County Coordinator Karen Brown, and Commissioner Marc Prestby attended that encouraged alternative programs which can reduce the need for jail space. He emphasized that this is "money well spent."

Condemnation Proceedings

Attorney Leigh Campbell asked the board to approve condemnation proceedings for the County 5 road project. Two parcels, 7 and 9, that are in question consist primarily of woodland and have no improvements. County Engineer John Grindeland and Tom Miles have negotiated with landowners since July of 2007. The landowners of the two parcels are Jerry and Laura Chase, Jim Ellis, Susan Ewert, and Patrick Chase. The matter was referred to the County Attorney's office in March 2008.

An appraisal was completed in June by Thomas Dybing. The appraisal was significantly lower than offers made by the Highway Department. The original offer was made again in July 2008 and a final offer in August with a September 1 firm deadline. If executed agreements from the landowners are received before the condemnation is initiated, the agreements will be honored.

The board approved a resolution allowing the condemnation process to avoid any further delay of the County 5 road project. Chairman Randy Dahl stressed that the condemnation process is a last resort. Amunrud added that the planned improvement of County 5 makes this a public safety issue.

Preliminary Budget Approved

County Coordinator Karen Brown summed up the preliminary 2009 budget. She noted that the Highway Department budget was increased by $120,000 as recommended by the Highway Committee. Energy costs increased by 9.4% or $21,479. Health costs remained constant and there were no requests for added staff.

The overall budget increase is 2.4% (2008 budget of $23,842,747 and 2009 budget of $24,413,378). The total proposed levy increase works out to 3.4% over the 2008 levy. The proposed levy stays slightly below the state imposed levy limit. The preliminary 2009 budget was approved.

The county levy increase falls well below the level for a Truth in Taxation Public Hearing Requirement.

Randy Dahl commented that the state doesn't have a clue how we provide their services. Brown agreed that the state probably doesn't recognize the implications of their levy limit. Commissioner Duane Bakke noted that some counties can't levy enough under the state imposed limits to cover increased energy costs. Dahl added that the state doesn't realize how close they are coming to shutting down local government.

Minnesota Redesign Project

Issues of the 87 Minnesota counties are going to be brought to the forefront by the Association of Minnesota Counties (AMC) in an effort to be "respected and treated fairly by the Legislature and the state." Social Service Director Thomas Boyd encouraged commissioners to "push hard" for partnering with the state, for transparency in letting counties know what they need to do. He is frustrated by the continuing cost shifts from the state and wants action to make changes.

Dahl stressed that it is important for the AMC to reestablish communication with the state. Boyd maintained that the bottom line is that both levels of government are working for the people of Minnesota and that it is necessary for counties and the state to work together. Amunrud suggested that the county invite school districts, townships, and cities to address legislators on issues that they share.

The AMC is going to have a media event at the state capitol on Wednesday, September 24, to highlight the number of short term offenders in county jails. The AMC wants to expose through a series of events "the pervasive inequities in the relationship between state and local government in Minnesota."

On a related topic Paul Wilson, AMC president and Olmsted County Commissioner, detailed funding shifts and inequities in the Governor's Select Committee on Recycling and the Environment (SCORE), established in 1989. It is a partnership between the state and local government for recycling and waste education programs. Originally, the state funded the majority of the programs with the counties funding 25%.

Currently, taxes on residential garbage and commercial collection generate about $60 million dollars per year. However, Wilson notes that only $14 million of this is returned to the counties for SCORE programs. Counties no longer get a 75% match from the state.

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