Kandiyohi County makes adjustments to legal fees handed down after cutting public defenders' budget
WILLMAR -- During the last year, Kandiyohi County has spent $65,000 for legal counsel for parents who may be losing their parental rights or whose children may be in need of protective services.
It's a cost that had been paid by the State Board of Public Defense until the Legislature cut the public defenders' budget.
Recognizing the need for parents to have proper defense for the legal process to take place, Kandiyohi County agreed to voluntarily provide interim funding for the defense attorneys.
That agreement, however, was done reluctantly.
In a resolution passed last year, the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners said counties have no legal obligation or duty to fund the court-appointed counsel for those cases. But because the process would be disrupted, and children put at risk, if defense attorneys weren't provided, the commissioners agreed to fund it.
Two counties, Rice and Crow Wing, refused to pay the costs and the issue is now in the hands of the Minnesota Supreme Court.
The status of the case is "still up in the air," said Kandiyohi County Attorney Boyd Beccue, who doubts the court will provide an answer in time for the Legislature to take corrective action this year.
Since the county agreed to pay for the program, Beccue and Family Service Director Jay Kieft discovered a few glitches in the county's agreement that resulted in increased costs.
On Tuesday, the commissioners approved revisions that Beccue and Kieft recommended that could reduce future expenses.
"By tightening it up, we'll save taxpayer money," Beccue said. In light of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's recent proposal to cut county aid, Beccue said the changes are "very timely."
One change will require that defense attorneys appointed to the cases have their primary offices in the county. That will prevent the county paying for excessive "windshield time," said Beccue, referring to time spent traveling.
The revised resolution also says the county won't pay for other expenses incurred by the assigned attorneys, such as clerical time or investigation. The county also retains the right to review and object to inappropriate or excessive billing requests.
Because some grandparents are involved with raising children, the county will now pay for attorney fees for grandparents who are serving as the parent of a child. Fees won't be paid for grandparents who haven't raised the child but want to intervene.
The changes will take effect Monday.
In other budget-related action Tuesday:
- The commissioners denied a request by A'viands for a 2.7 percent increase in fees that would be retroactive to Jan. 22. The company provides meals for the county jail, Prairie Lakes Youth Program and a residential treatment facility on the MinnWest Technology Campus.
- On a 3-2 vote, the commissioners established a fee of $500 for individuals to file an administrative appeal of action taken by the county's planning and zoning administrator.
Commissioners Richard Falk and Dean Shuck, who voted no, said the fee was too high. Commissioners Dennis Peterson, Richard Larson and Harlan Madsen voted in favor of the fee, which will offset costs incurred by the zoning department to investigate and prepare documents for an appeal, which is then heard by the Board of Adjustment.
The average fee for filing an administrative appeal charged by area counties is $625.