LITTLE FALLS -- In a short-term solution to keep a juvenile center afloat financially, commissioners from three area counties agreed Monday to come up with an additional $200,000.
That should help meet payroll, which was in question for this month with reserves down to about $35,000, but programming changes and more cash will be needed to keep the Central Minnesota Juvenile Center operational for more than a handful of months. Commissioners from Aitkin, Crow Wing and Morrison counties met in Little Falls Monday morning and agreed to move ahead with preliminary plans for a non-secured programming wing at the center and fund operations through early summer.
Central Minnesota Community Corrections, which has adult and juvenile probation services and the juvenile detention facility in Brainerd, is supported in part by the three counties. The juvenile center, which has beds in both a secure locked wing and a programming wing, has been hemorrhaging cash, a point of contention for months.
Central Minnesota Community Corrections has operated a secure detention center for youth since 1991.
Following a history of a shortage of beds, a newer and larger juvenile detention center began operating in 2000.
The detention facility has a 16-bed secure detention wing and a 24-bed corrections programming wing, leasing space from a Crow Wing County-owned building in Brainerd.
The juvenile center costs about $1 million a year to operate.
In an effort to fix the problem, the counties hired Michael Kafka as CMCC executive director in February. The number of juveniles using programs has been dropping. One ongoing issue is whether programming at the secure facility is meeting needs of agencies who make placement decisions. When placing juveniles in facilities, the trend has been to seek the least restrictive setting.
Kafka analyzed current operations and presented Monday a plan to convert the now-idle programming wing to a non-secure facility. The juvenile detention facility has a facility administrator, a supervisor, a secretary and 14 full-time equivalent line staff. Commissioners previously cut two case managers.
Tim Houle, Morrison County administrator, said the bottom line is whether the center can offer competitive programming services that will bring juveniles into the facility. Several commissioners were reluctant to put more money into the facility without more information on minimum staffing requirements.
Kafka said he would provide details of jobs and duties by May 31. He suggested a 10-12 bed non-secure programming wing for boys only. By fall Kafka said they could assess whether the plan was working. One idea included adding a therapy program for juveniles and their families. By year's end, if the programming wing was full, the revenues would help offset costs of the secure or locked detention wing. In 2006, Kafka said 10-12 juveniles in the non-secure wing could bring in $150,000 in new financing for the center. Future options include programming for girls and the possibility of a charter school with expansion of psycho-educational programs.
"All I'm asking for now is a commitment to go down this path," Kafka said.
Crow Wing County commissioners Ed Larsen and Gary Walters questioned staffing levels. Walters said if the information on minimum staffing levels is not available in May he will vote to shut the center down and fire people. Larsen admitted to a high level of frustration.
"I can do this," Kafka said. "I know how to do this. It's not as simple as just cutting positions."
Paul Bailey, Aitkin County commissioner, said shutting down the detention center will not end the counties' costs in handling juveniles as they are sent to other facilities farther away.
"How you can't cash flow this thing has always been a mystery to me," Houle said. "There is a point where it is just cheaper to shut it down."
Don Meyer, Morrison County commissioner, said crime is costly and they cannot always expect to make money or break even. Meyer said he wanted to pursue the plan, noting they couldn't be blind to expenses but had to take care of juveniles.
Another issue is working with the union agreement. Kafka said wages are not an issue but scheduling is with language that has people working just one weekend a month. Scott Arneson, Aitkin County administrator, said the union sent a letter saying they were willing to talk about the contract and to make the center successful. Commissioners expect to meet again in May.
RENEE RICHARDSON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.
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