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Kandiyohi County investigating options as it considers opting out of the state's merit system

WILLMAR -- Kandiyohi County has paid the state about $18,000 every year since 2003 to participate in a merit system that family service departments are required to follow.

The system is designed to ensure that the duties, pay scale, hiring and promotion opportunities are equitable across the country. The requirements are also supposed to help make jobs in human services an "attractive career," said Jay Kieft, Kandiyohi County Family Services director.

While the system has merits, the county is considering providing the service itself instead of using -- and paying for -- the state program.

Besides paying the state to complete all the necessary paperwork, Kieft said the county also dedicates a quarter-time employee to handle the files on the county's end. In some cases the state program provides little assistance in areas -- such as recruiting employees -- and the county ends up doing the work, Kieft said.

The state will allow the county to be released from the program once it can show that all the mechanisms are in place to take it over. The county must also give the state one year's notice if it intends to leave the system.

Kieft told the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday that he's investigating the procedures for leaving the system and he hoped to submit notice by the end of the year.

Mary Rhude, the new director of Kandiyohi County Arc, gave the board an update on programs being offered by the organization, which advocates for individuals with disabilities.

As a speech pathologist for 35 years, special education coordinator and a parent of a 26-year-old son with Down syndrome, Rhude said she has always been passionate about families who have children with disabilities.

She said the local organization, which is just one of three in the state that includes a single county, has been "struggling for our identity." After being encouraged to merge with another county Arc group, and studying that proposal for the last six months, she said a decision was made to remain on their own.

The group has strong programs for older individuals, but Rhude said they need to reach out more to younger families and encourage them to become members.

She praised Kieft for establishing a new working relationship between the county and Arc and their common goal of making sure that people with disabilities have "what they need."

In other action, commissioners approved a certificate of need for Divine Hope LLC to provide outpatient chemical health services.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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