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Future of Swift Co. offenders program still up in the air after meeting

BENSON -- An abrupt adjournment to the Swift County Board of Commissioners meeting this week could signal the end of the county's 30-year-old sentence-to-service program.

As the commissioners were discussing whether or not to continue operating their sentence-to-service program, which will cost counties more starting July 1 because the state has cut its share in half, a motion was made to adjourn the meeting, which cut off further discussion about the program's future.

The motion to adjourn was approved on a split vote with Commissioners Gary Hendrickx, Joe Fox and Dick Hanson voting yes and Commissioners Doug Anderson and Pete Peterson voting no.

The situation created an "awkward" moment as the commissioners got up to leave the meeting, said Auditor Byron Giese.

The vote to adjourn essentially means Swift County will no longer operate its sentence-to-service program, which it shares with Big Stone County.

"As it sits today, our program is done," said Giese.

Counties needed to give the state a 30-day notice if it intended to continue its contract with the state before the cost shift is made July 1.

Not taking any action means the county rejected the new contract and higher fees, Giese said.

The sentence-to-service program allows adults and juveniles convicted of crimes to work off fines and fees by doing community service work. For about a half-dozen years, Swift County and Big Stone County have shared a coordinator position and split the local costs.

Currently, Swift County pays $25,000 for its share of the program. Starting July 1, the fee would be $37,000 because the state will pay only 25 percent of the cost. The state currently pays 50 percent.

At the same time, Swift County pays $9,000 in fees as part of its joint powers agreement with the Region 6W Development Commission in Montevideo for corrections services, including a sentence-to-service program.

Swift County utilizes other corrections services through Region 6W but not the sentence-to-service program.

The commissioners did not take action on requesting that additional service from Region 6W, said Giese, although there has been communication with the agency and the issue is expected to be addressed again next month.

Giese said Chief Deputy Sheriff John Holtz and County Attorney Robin Finke told the commissioners they wanted some kind of sentence-to-service program operating in the county.

Kandiyohi County, meanwhile, has agreed to take over the sentence-to-service program for Big Stone County, said Kandiyohi County Sheriff Dan Hartog.

Carolyn Lange

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

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