County split on Sentenced to Serve cutsBecause of recent legislation slashing state funding for the Sentenced to Serve program, Douglas County will now have to pick up a bigger share of the cost.
By: Celeste Beam, Alexandria Echo Press
Because of recent legislation slashing state funding for the Sentenced to Serve program, Douglas County will now have to pick up a bigger share of the cost.
At Tuesday’s regular county board meeting, Douglas County Sheriff Troy Wolbersen and Jackie Notch, Douglas County Jail administrator, talked with the commissioners about the STS program.
Notch received a letter from the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) with details about the county’s joint powers agreement for STS services.
The letter explained the changes to the state’s and county’s share of the cost, which will begin on July 1. The new funding formula has the county picking up 75 percent of the cost and the state paying the remaining 25 percent for the program.
Previously, the county was paying about 65 percent and the state paid for the remaining 35 percent, according to Notch.
In order to implement the change, the DOC prepared an amendment to the county’s existing STS agreement and asked the county to submit a letter of intent to either continue the program or cancel the existing Joint Powers Agreement, which ends on June 30.
Wolbersen informed the commissioners that because of the funding cuts, the juvenile STS program has been cut in Douglas County, which will save the county $20,000 per year.
Commissioner Jerry Johnson asked, “So we’re making cuts to the juvenile program this year, but what about for next year?”
Wolbersen replied, “We will cross that bridge when we get there.”
Johnson told Wolbersen and Notch that at some point, the county needs to start making more cuts and that maybe it should take a closer look at the STS program.
“We need to make cuts someplace,” Johnson stressed. “I think we should cut this [STS program] down to one crew.”
Wolbersen disagreed with Johnson and said the sheriff’s office runs two “very efficient” crews and that if the county cuts back to one crew, work simply wouldn’t get done.
Johnson said he wasn’t going to argue that the STS wasn’t a good program, but he said it is costing the county money.
“It’s a good program but sometimes, cuts just need to be made,” said Johnson.
Board Chair Paul Anderson disagreed with Johnson.
“It would be a mistake to cut back on this program,” Anderson said. “If we don’t continue it, we are going to be the losers.”
Wolbersen told the commissioners, “Sometimes it’s more than just dollars. Sometimes there are benefits beyond the dollars.”
Wolbersen explained that the STS program helps to teach inmates about work ethic and more.
Commissioner Anderson agreed, recalling a story of an inmate who helped with some garden work, realized how much he enjoyed it and decided to go to school for horticulture.
“We took a guy who had problems and helped put him in a vocation,” said Anderson. “That’s part of the benefits.”
After further discussion, Douglas County Attorney Chris Karpan explained to the commissioners that all they were asked to do was sign a letter of intent. He told them they were not approving the contract at this time.
Karpan noted that after the letter of intent is signed, the county would receive the new contract, at which time, the commissioners would have the opportunity to approve it or not.
“You are not doing something that can’t be taken back,” he said.
Commissioner Dan Olson made a motion to move forward, sign the letter of intent and submit it to the DOC. Commissioner Norm Salto seconded the motion.
In a 3-2 vote, the motion was approved and the letter of intent to continue the program will be sent to the DOC.
Johnson, along with Commissioner Bev Bales, voted against it.