Pubdate: Tue, 02 Dec 2008
Source: Post-Bulletin (Rochester, MN)
Copyright: 2008 Post-Bulletin Company, LLC
Author: Jeffrey Pieters, Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)


A "bare-bones" 2009 Olmsted County budget proposal was introduced to
county commissioners on Monday, the first day of a two-day financial

The $172 million budget is a 4.1 percent increase over the 2008
budget. The added spending accommodates many inflation-level spending
increases, plus the addition of seven full- and part-time staff
members. With several other positions being cut, the net staffing
increase is an equivalent of 1.35 full-time jobs.

"Our expenses are pretty much bare bones," said County Administrator
Richard Devlin. The county anticipates deep cuts in state financial
assistance later this year, after the state grapples with a projected
$3 billion to $5 billion deficit.

When that happens, the county will have to re-budget, Devlin said. He
proposes having the county reexamine and reauthorize its budget every
three months in 2009.

Several spending categories are left wanting in the budget as it's now

Highway overlays, for example, are allocated about $400,000, or
roughly one-fifth of the amount dedicated to overlays last year. Last
year's amount, in turn, was less than half the amount the Public Works
Department says is necessary to provide basic upkeep.

It is "totally, totally inadequate," Devlin said.

County Attorney Mark Ostrem made his plea to commissioners for
$75,000 to create a special court to handle cases involving the
county's worst drug offenders.

Such a "drug court" was a central piece of Ostrem's 2006 campaign for
county attorney.

Besides the money he sought from commissioners, Ostrem said he would
be asking for $25,000 from a local research and development committee,
and single-handedly conducting a community fundraising campaign. The
court needs about $200,000 to get through its first two years of
operation, after which it would be expected to start saving the county
on court costs.

"I'm just not going to let this thing die," Ostrem said. "Drug court
is very important. In tight budget times, it's probably more important
than ever."

The Olmsted County Jail has the largest staff increase of any
county department. It's adding three detention deputies.

The rub is that the additions add up to only half of what was ordered
by the state Department of Corrections after an inspection of the jail
last year. The county plans to plead poverty to the state if it adopts
a budget that only half-complies with the DOC's order.

"Tell them we'll hire the rest when they reimburse us for the
short-term offenders," said board Chairman Dave Perkins.

Jail Director Stacy Sinner said the ordered hires would, in fact,
correct some operational problems at the jail.

"It's a risky situation," she said. "You need those people. It isn't

But if the county hires fewer than the full six, she said, it should
hire four, because four jailers can be paired two-and-two on regular
12-hour shifts.
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