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Commissioner touts community service program as county's 'best kept secret'

WILLMAR -- Adult and juvenile criminal offenders are providing nearly a half-million dollars in community service work each year in Kandiyohi County.

If their work was paid in real dollars, the county's $1.1 million Corrections Department would be cut nearly in half.

Community service crews get assigned to a long list of jobs, such as fixing picnic tables, picnic shelters and fire rings at county parks; picking up recycling; cleaning around fire hydrants in the winter; picking up litter; painting public buildings; repairing and cleaning the county fairgrounds; and tending a huge garden that produces several thousand pounds of vegetables that are donated to the food shelf.

Kandiyohi County Commissioner Dennis Peterson called the community work services program the county's "best kept secret."

During a presentation Tuesday during the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners meeting, Corrections Director Deb West said the crews not only learn how to "give back" to the community as part of their punishment for crimes, but the program is also a cost-benefit to the county.

Using figures from 2007, West said adult offenders completed 75,525 hours of work and juveniles completed 5,881 hours.

By using a rate of $6 an hour to calculate the value of their work, West said the crews provided the equivalent of $488,436 in labor.

Because adult offenders can eliminate a day in jail for each day they do community service work, the county provided 1,184 fewer jail beds in 2007 for additional savings of $82,810.

According to West, the value of their work plus the expenses saved through their reduced jail time saved the county $571,246 -- about half of the Corrections Department's $1,120,000 million budget in 2007.

When the state subsidy administered through the Minnesota Department of Corrections is accounted for, the department's cost is reduced to $31,254.

Add to that the $100,000 in fees that the local department collects annually and one could argue that the county actually makes money, West said.

The commissioners praised Dean Klinghagen, who coordinates the community services work and sentence-to-serve program, for the good relationship he has with the clients he supervises and the community entities where work is done.

Commissioner Harlan Madsen said it's "overwhelming" how much work Klinghagen and the crews get done every year.

In his report, Klinghagen highlighted some of the jobs his crews did in 2007, including making 180 anchors the Sheriff's Department used on buoys. It was a job that involved juvenile crews mixing concrete and shoveling it into plastic drain tiles.

Among other things, adult crews built two recycling sheds, fixed the bailer at the recycling center, built a garage at the courthouse, built 25 picnic tables, made 30 steel campfire rings, planted trees and cleaned forfeited cars for the Sheriff's Department.

Community service crews mow at 13 boat landings, Rodvig Park by New London, the former state hospital cemetery, the Humane Society of Kandiyohi County's location, the girls and boys group homes, three forfeited lots, three weed control lots, the KAT bus grounds, recycling center, household hazardous waste and shop area.

In the winter they clear snow from many of the same places.

So far in 2008, Klinghagen said 55,000 adult hours and 4,000 juvenile hours have been logged. "It looks good for this year," he said.