WILLMAR — The proposed biennial budget from Gov. Tim Walz has Kandiyohi County Community Corrections Director Tami Jo Lieberg very concerned. The budget is calling for millions of dollars in reductions to the funding of county community corrections and probation officer programs, while keeping the state's Department of Corrections budget untouched.
"They are keeping their system whole at the state level and passing all the cuts to the county level," Lieberg said to the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners during Tuesday's Health and Human Services Committee meeting.
The proposed reductions are $1.6 million in fiscal year 2022 and $6.61 million reduction in fiscal year 2023, an approximately 5 percent reduction in the total community corrections funding stream. In fiscal year 2021 the budget for community services including community corrections was $133,738,000. The total Department of Corrections budget was $624,604,000.
"Hopefully the proposed budget won't be what we see in the end," Lieberg said.
Minnesota has a complicated system to provide supervision to criminal offenders. Counties can choose between contracting with the Department of Corrections, creating their own community corrections programs or having county probation officers.
Thirty-four counties have a community corrections program, including Kandiyohi County. Those programs supervise about 72 percent of offenders in the state. The rest of the supervision is split between the Department of Corrections and counties with probation officers.
The proposed cuts also come at a time when there is a push to reduce the number of those incarcerated, which Lieberg supports. While there will always be a need for prisons, Lieberg said community corrections provides better opportunities to rehabilitate offenders. Programs such as community corrections, which in Kandiyohi County can mean anything from changing the oil in county vehicles to building camper cabins in county parks, teaches those in the programs life and employment skills.
"Our prison population should be reduced. The cost is high to have them in prison," Lieberg said, adding most offenders don't need to be confined. "We do a better job supervising them in the community and we provide better resources for them."
Reducing the number of offenders who find themselves behind bars will have a direct impact on the workload of county community corrections and probation officer programs.
"By taking people out of prisons, it adds pressure to what we are doing," said Commissioner Roger Imdieke.
Funding supervision programs in the state is a tangled affair. The Department of Corrections first funds itself and its responsibilities, such as employee pay and prisons. Then money is sent to the county programs.
"We get what is left," Lieberg said.
State law says the state is responsible for reimbursing up to 50 percent of the salaries of county probation officers, though Lieberg said in reality it is significantly less than that. Community Corrections receives a subsidy grant from the Department of Corrections to fund county services. A formula is used to decide how much of that grant each community corrections program will receive.
How the funding reaches the counties puts the three different offender supervision programs in competition with each other, Lieberg said, something that needs to change.
"Finding a way to provide an equitable funding stream that goes statewide, so it doesn't matter what choice of delivery system it is, is really critical toward fixing this problem," Lieberg said.
The proposed budget cuts to community corrections are not yet set in stone. The state Legislature will need to debate and pass the 2022-2023 budget, and then have Walz approve it by May 17, the last day of the current session or a special session will need to be called. The 2022 budget needs to be ready by July 1, when the new budget cycle begins.
Imdieke hopes that these budget cuts will be reconsidered because of waning concerns about a pandemic-caused state deficit.
If the community corrections budget is slashed, the county will need to fill the gap.
"When that funding doesn't come from the state, it comes from our taxpayers in Kandiyohi County," Imdieke said. "We still have to deliver the goods, we just won't get the reimbursement."