Around Cook County
Savings seen in the law enforcement budget because of changes to the Sentence-to-Serve program came up during the county board’s discussion of the overall budget on Tuesday, October 27.
Commissioners set the preliminary 2016 levy on September 22 with a 12 percent increase from 2015, with the promise that they would work to decrease the levy further, which they attempted at Tuesday’s meeting.
According to County Administrator Jeff Cadwell, the current levy increase of 12 percent represents an annual increase for taxpayers of $48 per $100,000 of property value.
Cadwell told the board that each 1 percent decrease in the proposed levy represents approximately $65,168 and commissioners noted that the STS change equaled an almost 1 percent reduction.
Commissioner Frank Moe said Sheriff Eliasen’s proposal to change Sentence-to-Serve, resulting in a budget reduction of $60,000 was “very instructive.” He said the board has gone through the budget item-by-item and he didn’t see anyway to reduce it further without cutting services or personnel. “We’re not going to nickel and dime this,” he said.
There was discussion of consolidating services and Cadwell said that is something the county does need to look at.
Cadwell said whatever levy number the board decides, he and Auditor Braidy Powers will continue to work toward that goal. But highlighting the challenge commissioners face, Cadwell pointed out that the current proposed net expenditures for 2016 are already a percentage lower than the budgeted net expenditures for 2015.
Talk again turned to what sort of services could be reduced, such as chloride for the roads and the funding of discretionary services. Discussion continued for nearly two hours. No immediate solutions were found and discussion will continue at the board meeting on November 10.
Sheriff Pat Eliasen came before the county board on Tuesday, Ocotber 27 to talk about terminating the contract with the state for operation of the Sentence-to-Service (STS) program Sheriff Eliasen assured the board that terminating the contract would not mean the elimination of the STS program—but it would result in a reduction in the Sheriff’s Office budget.
Eliasen explained that current STS coordinator Gary Jorgenson was no longer available to serve in that role, so the Sheriff’s Office contacted the state and learned that Cook County could run its own program. He said inmates in the STS program could still go out to work, but instead of having a crew leader with at all times, the entities using STS crews would be supervising.
Dispatch Supervisor/Jail Administrator Judy Sivertson said she had talked to other counties and this works well for them. She stressed that these are low-risk prisoners and that the supervisors they would be working for are familiar with the program, such as Rick Sturm at the Recycle Center or Brian Silence with county maintenance. If STS workers were assigned to a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources project, the DNR would be responsible for supervision. Eliasen said Sivertson and/or deputies would check on inmates throughout the day.
Eliasen said the county would save $60,000 a year by not renewing the state contract. Commissioners asked if there would be additional costs for running the program and Eliasen said he didn’t think so, as the checks on inmates could be worked into the law enforcement schedules.
Eliasen acknowledged that Gary Jorgenson had been an excellent crew leader and the county was losing some of his mentorship with inmates, but said he reiterated that the STS program could be run inhouse.
Commissioners agreed and directed Sheriff Eliasen to move ahead with a county STS program, asking for a report on how it is going in 90 days.
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