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Counties seek Pawlenty's support to redesign family services

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WILLMAR -- Minnesota counties are not taking kindly to Gov. Tim Pawlenty's proposal to create 15 regional family service agencies to replace individual county departments.

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Kandiyohi County Family Services Director Jay Kieft on Tuesday summed up the basic response: "No. But let us work with you."

During a report to the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners, Kieft said counties "really want to work with the governor's office and the Department of Human Services" to implement necessary changes to find financial efficiencies.

"We could do a good job if given the opportunity and the time."

Kieft said counties want to help redesign how family services are delivered by creating outcome-based programs that have flexible state funding.

But Kieft said Pawlenty's plan to create 15 multi-county collaboratives with population bases of 100,000 to deliver family service programs is a "bad policy." It's also an "affront to the governance" of counties and their responsibility and authority, he said.

Kieft said the Minnesota Association of County Social Service Administrators is drafting a legislative position to respond to the proposal. "We're trying to respond in a positive way to the challenges we're facing," he said.

Minnesota Association of County Social Service Administrators is "opposed categorically" to the "arbitrary system" in the proposal but wants to help write a better plan where "form follows function," he said.

Kieft said the numbers in Pawlenty's plan -- like 15 regional agencies with a population of 100,000 -- were arbitrarily picked "out of the air" and don't take into consideration geographical challenges.

To get to a population base of 100,000, Kieft said Kandiyohi County would have to join with the eight other counties in an area that extends to the South Dakota border to provide all family service programs. And creating 15 regions "does nothing to ensure simplification," he said.

Kieft said the governor may not be aware that Kandiyohi County already collaborates with other counties on a number of programs, such as in mental health and youth services.

In looking for direction from the commissioners, Kieft said counties don't want to just "push against this and dig our heels in" and "get into a fight." He said counties instead want to "look for opportunities" to deliver services efficiently.

The commissioners encouraged Kieft to carry that message forward.

"Stay the course," Commissioner Harlan Madsen said.

In other action:

- The commissioners heard an update from the county's homeless task force and their efforts to educate people about homelessness in Kandiyohi County and to raise funds for housing. A video the task force created was also shown and commissioners were told the video and speakers are available to make presentations and civic and church groups.

- A report on programs that help youth who are aging out of foster care was presented, with one of the participants sharing her story. Maria, who did not provide a last name, told the commissioners that the program helped her gain confidence, learn living skills, become more connected to the community and is preparing her to attend college this fall.

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Carolyn Lange
A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers county government and regional news with the West Central Tribune.
(320) 894-9750
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