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County considers increase for corrections placements

The Wadena County Social Services Board decided to work with a preliminary increased budget number for community corrections out-of-home placements, even after receiving news that the county may have a tighter levy increase than previously expected.

Commissioner Orv Meyer said it's important the county produce a logical budget and not create a false picture for the state and the public.

Chairman Dave Schermerhorn agreed.

"We need to tell them realistically," Schermerhorn said at the board's August meeting. "We're not trying to paint no glorious picture when all we got is black paint."

Todd-Wadena Community Corrections Director Katherine Langer recommended a nearly $41,000 increase in the out-of-home placement budget to reflect projected costs for 2009. The costs in the out-of-home placement budget are for actual placements and not for staffing or anything else, she said.

This year's $335,298 budget is not adequate to cover expenses due to some difficult placements.

The placements that accept these juveniles can cost $6,000 to $7,000 a month, said Social Services Director Paul Sailer.

Costs for 2008 are projected to be $493,322, although Sailer said by year's end he expected them to be closer to $400,000.

Sailer said the county board can decide to cover the 2009 budget increase with county program aid, the county levy or the social services balance. He didn't recommend using the social services balance because it needs to stabilize.

"We've dropped down as much as we want to," Sailer said.

If the board covers the increase with the levy the $40,000 would be roughly 0.5 percent of the county's 3.9 percent levy limit, he said.

The county board has discussed using county program aid to cover community corrections, but recently found out CPA may be factored into the 3.9 percent levy increase the state mandated. If so, that would leave the county with a roughly 2.1 percent levy increase, said Human Resources Consultant Mike Gibson Aug. 19.

Commissioner Lane Waldahl suggested leaving the budget at $335,298, the same as it was in 2008.

"If we left it ... and crossed our fingers and legs and hope that ... we can make it through the year," he said.

Meyer said staying with the same $335,298 budget as 2008 is an unrealistic expectation.

"We can't even meet that this year," Schermerhorn said.

Langer said the county would be telling the state and the public that it can manage on that budget and it would be set up for failure.

Meyer said the county needs to show that meeting the 3.9 percent levy limit is unreasonable.

Waldahl said he agreed, but he questioned what the county was going to do.

Meyer said they weren't going to decide that yet.

Social services will have to put down what the actual costs are and then figure out where it's going to come from, Schermerhorn said.

Meyer asked Langer if the costs of out-of-home placements were beyond their control.

"Some of the situations are and that's where a child comes into the system and they have committed a serious crime against a person," Langer said. "It can catapult us into an expensive placement."

Langer informed the board earlier that community corrections recommends out-of-home placements only after looking at other options. Sometimes they get children with very serious behavioral challenges, she said.

The cost of placements is expensive in terms of dollars, but their primary goal is public safety, she said.

Meyer said the public has no idea of the kind of offenses committed by juveniles.