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County saying it will continue its partnership with entity that treats addiction

WILLMAR -- The Kandiyohi County Commissioners said they are pleased with the results of a new partnership with Project Turnabout and voted unanimously this week to continue the contract for 2012.

Project Turnabout is one of several outside entities hired by Kandiyohi County to conduct chemical use assessments for family services and court-ordered cases at a rate of $125 per assessment. The county stopped using its own staff to conduct the assessments last year as a cost-savings measure.

Deb West, director of the Community Corrections Department, said the contract with the Granite Falls-based Project Turnabout has been a "wonderful collaboration."

Project Turnabout treats those suffering with alcohol and drug abuse and gambling addiction.

During a presentation Tuesday to the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners, West praised Mike Schiks, executive director of Project Turnabout, for resolving the "bumps in the road" experienced during the transition. She said the well-written chemical assessment reports provided by Project Turnabout are an important part of the process for the courts and the clients.

Family Services Director Jay Kieft said Schiks "has his ear to the ground and his eyes to the horizon" when it comes to providing services with a "frugal" budget.

That frugality was evident this year when the state approved new rate reimbursements for programs like Project Turnabout.

Schiks said for most entities, the new state rate meant a decrease in revenues. Because of their already low rates, the state reimbursement actually resulted in an increase in revenue for Project Turnabout.

But he told the commissioners there are many challenges to "keep the doors open" during the tough economy and challenges when it comes to treating addicts, especially with the recent abuse of designer drugs, such as bath salts, that are sold legally over the Internet.

Abuse of prescription painkillers has also increased, which can lead to use of hardcore illegal drugs such as heroin. "That's been so difficult to get our arms around," he said.

Schiks said drug and alcohol addiction combined with a growing unemployment rate have resulted in a loss of hope for some addicts, especially for the 25- to 29-year-old age group.

"This is an issue of hope," Schiks told the commissioners.

But the challenges come with successes. He said more than 300 people attended an alumni party in September with the message that, "We're sober. We're strong. We're happy," Schiks said. "It's kind of humbling to hear that."

For the first time, Project Turnabout had a booth this year at the State Fair where people marked their years of recovery on a placard. By the end of the 12-day fair, there were 6,000 years of recovery marked, he said.

As a recovering addict himself, Schiks said hearing stories of recovery is "music to my ears."

Additional challenges lay in treating a growing number of addicts with limited space. He said Project Turnabout is "filled to the rafters" and has a waiting list of eight to 10 people. Finding enough qualified staff has also been difficult. He said anyone with the training and a "heart" can get a job in the field of chemical addiction counseling.

Schiks said the goal of Project Turnabout is to "put ourselves out of business someday." So far, there's no sign of that happening.

In other business:

- Family Services director Jay Kieft informed the commissioners that a 19 percent reduction in state funding to the Minnesota Family Investment Program in the next biennium will hit the Workforce Center especially hard at a time when the Willmar office has made great strides in exceeding state standards in participation rates and in the number of families who have left the program to become independent. He said the cuts could mean a less "robust" service in the future.

- The commissioners approved a contract with the Somali Connection for translation services provided to the Family Services Department at the same rate as last year. This is the fifth year the Willmar organization has had a contract with the county.

- The commissioners reviewed the county policy on assessing homeowners for urban street costs outside municipalities. The policy could be applied to one of the reconstruction and realignment options being considered for County Road 9 east of Eagle Lake. A public hearing on the different proposals for the Eagle Lake road will be at 7 p.m. today in the Health and Human Services Building.

- An agreement was approved between the county, the Minnesota Department of Transportation and BNSF Railway to construct a railroad crossing with signals and gates on 75th Street North, also known as County Road 116, one mile east of Pennock. The state will utilize $190,423 in federal funds for the project. The county's share is $21,158. BNSF does not participate financially but installs the system.

- The commissioners approved an agreement with the state Board of Water and Soil Resources for a $800,000 grant for the Grass Lake restoration project. The money will be used for continued coordination, engineering and acquisition of property for the project that aims to improve water quality in Lake Wakanda.

- The commissioners approved an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is purchasing 16 acres of land that will be added to the wildlife production area on the Lake Florida slough. The Fish and Wildlife Service will make a one-time payment of $5,700 to the county to help offset the current property tax from the parcel.

Carolyn Lange

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

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