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Meeker Co. implements fee to fund program for offenders

LITCHFIELD -- Faced with a nearly $19,000 cut in state money, the Meeker County Board of Commissioners has agreed to implement a new fee to help fund the sentence to service program. County funds will make up the rest of the state cut.

Last month the Department of Corrections informed counties that beginning July 1, the state would only fund 25 percent of the cost of the program. Currently the state and counties share the cost of the program equally.

Counties were given the option to quit operating the program or fund 75 percent of the cost.

On Tuesday, the Meeker County commissioners ag-reed to keep the $76,000 program going and to implement a $20 an hour fee that will be charged to government entities that benefit from work performed by the sentence to service crew. The fee goes into effect July 1.

Non-violent offenders can perform community service work instead of paying fines for minor criminal offenses. Those tasks, like cleaning parks or painting, are oftentimes done to the benefit of the county, cities, townships and school districts.

While the fee will help the county close the financial gap made by the state cuts, the fee is just another way of passing on costs that will hurt small government entities that have also been hit by state budget cuts, said Meeker County Administrator Paul Virnig.

"Cities don't have any money and neither do townships or school districts," he said.

But the work the offenders provide is valuable to the entities, he said, and may prevent some from hiring their own employees to do the jobs.

Virnig said sentence to service is a "wonderful program" that provides a good public service and teaches offenders skills and self esteem.

Non-profit organizations that utilize the sentence to service program will not be charged the fee.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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