Central Minnesota Community Corrections' current fiscal mess appears to be an example of a good idea poorly executed.
The idea behind joint projects among counties is to reduce duplication of services and provide more efficiency. The key to success, of course, is to establish accountability. Each governmental unit must know who's in charge and be able to measure the joint program's success.
Demand for the juvenile detention center, which is supported by Crow Wing, Aitkin and Morrison counties, has decreased and it's now more than $1 million in the hole. Average daily detention population has decreased to about 10 in 2004 and the operation is clearly overstaffed.
Staff reductions were planned in the 2005 budget but affected staff members were never notified. This is a fiscal crisis that demands immediate attention. It appears overseers have identified that staff reductions are necessary but no one has stepped forward to initiate the uncomfortable task of firing people. As Morrison County Administrator Tim Houle put it, money is going through this program like a sieve. Crow Wing County Commissioner Ed Larsen said that either the program is not properly meeting the needs of the counties or there is no need for the program.
Using Brainerd Regional Human Services Center space for a juvenile detention center is a great idea if the demand and revenue stream can justify its existence. Having such a detention center is convenient for family members who want to keep in close contact with the young people. However, if other detention options are satisfying the counties' needs the three counties should seriously evaluate whether it's feasible to keep the detention center open at all.
This problem should have been caught before this point. The three counties are faced with the current red ink problem because unpleasant decisions were avoided and no clear chain of accountability was established. Aitkin, Morrison and Crow Wing counties should make this problem a priority so further losses aren't incurred by the taxpayers.
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