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COL Legislators are putting public at risk

By Paul Fleissner

While we wait, legislators continue to bicker across party lines and community needs are ignored. Policy makers must get beyond party politics and complete the work of the people. Important decisions need to be made.

While we wait, we put our public safety at risk. Important issues like methamphetamine, sex offender supervision, and corrections funding hang out there for another year and the problems grow without any statewide answers.

While we wait, our corrections, law enforcement, public health and social services system continue to struggle with the overwhelming problem of methamphetamine. We continue to see families break up, children removed from their homes and parents and homes and property get destroyed. One of my colleagues in a suburban county told me that more than half of their out-of-home placements are because of meth-related child protection issues. In recent years, we have watched as treatment funding has been cut and the bipartisan bill that would have addressed several meth issues including treatment models, cleanup and Sudafed sales did not get passed because of a stalemate.

While we wait, we risk public safety because of the lack of funding to supervise offenders in the community. As of Dec. 31, 2003, in Minnesota there were 114,300 individuals on state or county probation, 6,032 in county jails and 7,568 in state prisons. The annual cost of each offender in prison is $31,712. The annual cost of an individual on probation is $1,354. In Olmsted County, state funding for probation has decreased three years in a row. In 2001, we had 86 staff people in our Corrections Division, with 1,500 offenders on probation. Now we have 67 staff people with 1850 offenders on probation.

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Did you know the state has run out of prison beds? Did you know that if we put 500 non-violent drug offenders on probation with treatment, we would save the state $30 million? Did you know that offenders on probation with the same felony offense have a much lower recidivism rate (prison, 42 percent; probation 11 percent). Let's fund what works, not what wins elections!

While we wait, we lost important supports to low-income workers in our community. The entry level for childcare assistance was dropped so low that many low-income workers in our community did not qualify for support. These working families often work in the service, retail and health care industries. Unfortunately, so few people qualified in our community that Olmsted County will be returning $900,000 to the State to be used in other communities with lower wages.

While we wait, you continue to pay for the state's budget problem through property taxes. Did you know the state solved a chunk of their problem by requiring counties to pay for things they historically paid for? New charges to Olmsted County for services to the mentally ill and disabled amount to $600,000 per year or about a 1 percent increase in the county property tax levy.

I understand times are tough. The Community Services Department cut $3.1 million this past year, but there are important decisions needed at the state level and I would like to see our leaders come together to meet the safety and health needs of our most vulnerable citizens. While we wait, things are not getting better!

Paul Fleissner is Director of Olmsted County Community Services. He can be reached at fleissner.paul@co.olmsted.mn.us

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