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Kandiyohi County Board supports new drug court program in 8th Judicial District

WILLMAR — Kandiyohi County commissioners expressed their support for a new drug court program which starts this week in the Eighth Judicial District.

The County Board heard a report on drug court at its meeting Tuesday morning. The drug court will divert addicts accused of committing felonies into an intensive program aimed at helping them turn their lives around.

Meeker and Kandiyohi counties will work together on drug court.

Karon White, drug court coordinator, said the program will not be open to people who are first-time offenders. The two-year program is capped at 10 participants, she said.

Participants face random drug checks twice a week and are subject to random checks by law enforcement.

Because the partners are severely addicted, White said, they won’t be kicked out of the program if they fail some early drug checks. However, they can’t commit new crimes or continue to fail drug tests.

“I’m glad to see it starting,” said Commissioner Harlan Madsen. “We’ve been hearing about it for a long time.”

County Board Chairman Jim Butterfield said he knows the program will not be cheap to administer, “but drug addiction is also very costly.”

If the program can help people become productive, it will save money in the long run, he added.

“We’re focusing on high-need, high-risk addicts,” and the traditional court system doesn’t work well for them, said County Attorney Shane Baker. “We as a society bear a lot of risk if we just do the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.”

The commissioners also discussed several budget-related matters Tuesday.

The commissioners agreed to adjust the 2014 county budget to add $115,621 in state funds to be used to develop a plan to combat aquatic invasive species. Next year’s budget will include a state grant of $256,937 to develop and implement the invasive species plan.

County Administrator Larry Kleindl reviewed the timetable for developing and approving the 2015 budget by the Sept. 30 state deadline.

Commissioners will meet to review the budget on Aug. 20 and 21. The budget could then be adopted at the Sept. 2 or Sept. 16 board meeting.

The Truth in Taxation hearing for the county will be Dec. 4.

The board heard a report on a pilot study planned for the Shakopee Creek headwaters. The creek begins and is fed by the chain of lakes in northern Kandiyohi County that includes Norway Lake, Lake Florida and Games Lake.

Skip Wright of the Department of Natural Resources and county employee Loren Engelby said Shakopee Creek headwaters is one of two areas chosen from the Minnesota River watershed to be studied. “We’re trying to understand the cumulative effect of runoff,” Wright said.

The water quality in some of the lakes to be studied has improved in recent years, but others have declined, especially West Norway Lake, he said.

The study will spend $4 million to $7 million across the 15,000-square-mile watershed over three years.

Engelby said the area should benefit from the study, which will include work to reduce sediment entering the lakes from County Ditch 27.

State legislators Rep. Mary Sawatzky, DFL-Willmar, and Sen. Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City, discussed the accomplishments of the 2014 Legislature with commissioners.

They listed several issues that would affect the county and its residents, including access to broadband, an increase in the minimum wage, money to begin the process of finishing the remaining two-lane sections of state Highway 23 and online voter registration.

Kleindl said the county has some of the lowest-rated access to broadband in the state, and he has been working with the countywide Vision 2040 effort to try to remedy the problems.

He said increases in pay for home care workers and other caretakers will help families in the county, too.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340