County, seeing the value in the work produced, picks up much larger tab for its sentence to serve program
WILLMAR -- A popular corrections program that puts offenders to work on community cleanup projects is going to cost Kandiyohi County more money to operate.
Last month the state cut funding for the sentence to service program in half. As a result, some counties are eliminating their programs.
Kandiyohi County will continue its program, is expected to take over the program for Big Stone County and is discussing similar agreements with other counties.
"Our program is one of the best in the state," Deb West, director of the Community Corrections, told the County Board of Commissioners Tuesday. "It's very successful."
Adult and juvenile offenders in Kandiyohi County can work off fines and fees by doing community service work -- like collecting recyclable materials from drop-off sheds, cleaning county parks, mowing ditches, painting public buildings and picking up litter in the ditch by the landfill.
"It's one of the last remaining restorative justice programs that we have," West said.
"They can give back and do projects," she said. "There are no losers. It's a win-win all around."
Because of the value of the work the offenders provide, the program actually saves the county money, said County Administrator Larry Kleindl, who called it a "no brainer" to continue the program here.
But because of the changes in state funding, it will cost the county more to keep the program operating.
In the past, the state split the cost 50-50 with counties. Earlier this year, as part of the state's budget-cutting process, Gov. Tim Pawlenty proposed eliminating the state share.
"That was pretty devastating news," West said. In the end, Pawlenty agreed to fund 25 percent, with counties picking up 75 percent. The change goes into effect July 1.
That 25 percent cut will cost Kandiyohi County an extra $17,260 a year.
In a later interview, West said she may have to cut her department elsewhere to fund the shortfall, but she also hopes to increase revenues by ratcheting up collections of the "substantial" number of delinquent correctional fees owed the county.
Last year $128,000 in revenue was generated through the fees charged to offenders for probation supervision, but West said there are thousands of dollars that haven't been paid.
The county currently "recaptures" some of those fees from offenders' tax refunds or lottery winnings through the state, and the county is now considering turning over delinquent accounts to a collection agency. West said she would rather try to recoup fees than ask the County Board for additional funds.
In a report about the work the sentence to service crews did last year, program director Dean Klinghagen summarized a long list of projects the offenders completed, including painting the interior of the new rescue squad building and landscaping the new Humane Society property.
In 2009 a total of 62,403 hours of work was performed by adults and 4,039 hours by juveniles.
"It's a terrific program," said Commissioner Dennis Peterson.
Commissioner Richard Larson said the county needs to "toot our horn" about the program and "let the public know" all the work the crews do.