Douglas County will keep sending its juvenile offenders to Moorhead
ALEXANDRIA - A decision regarding where Douglas County should send its juvenile offenders was made during a special board meeting July 6.
In a 5-0 vote, Douglas County Commissioners decided to keep sending its juveniles to the West Central Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Moorhead and commit to 2.5 beds per month.
Barry Steen, who is the director of the juvenile detention center in Moorhead, along with two Clay County commissioners, Kevin Campbell and Grant Weyland, spoke on behalf of the detention center during the meeting.
At its last regular board meeting, Douglas County commissioners voted to table the discussion on the Moorhead facility and gather information about the juvenile detention center in Kandiyohi County, which is located in Willmar.
The reason for the discussion is because the Moorhead facility is in financial trouble. The center has asked four of its largest counties - including Douglas - to commit to a certain number of beds each month. It needs Douglas County to commit to 2.5 beds each month at a cost of $182,500.
The three other largest counties that use the facility include Clay, Becker and Otter Tail. There are eight other counties that use the facility.
By committing to 2.5 beds per month, Douglas County would be guaranteed a place to bring its juvenile offenders.
During Monday's special meeting, Campbell told the commissioners that a reason for the financial trouble is because there has been a downturn in enrollees, meaning the number of juveniles staying at the facility.
"Kids staying out of trouble is a good thing," he said, adding that it's also a bad thing because of the funding.
He told commissioners that when the population at the facility gets into low numbers, the formula for figuring out how much each county should pay is critical.
He called the situation a "Catch 22" because of programming. For the juveniles staying at the facility, there should be programming, but with funding cuts, programming tends to get cut.
"The less programming there is, the less people are going to recommend kids coming here," said Campbell.
He also said that the facility is operating in a deficit, which is why it has asked the four bigger counties to make a firm commitment.
"Obviously, we can't continue to operate like this," he said.
Steen told Douglas County commissioners that although they are looking into another facility, he wanted to point out the long-term relationship between Douglas County and the facility. He noted that Douglas County was one of the original nine counties involved with the facility when it opened.
"We have a great working relationship with Douglas County," said Steen, noting that the length of the relationship spans nearly 40 years.
Steen explained to the commissioners that they may be able to get by cheaper as far as the per diem rate with the other facility, but not when the transportation costs were added in.
Currently, when juveniles are sent to the detention center in Moorhead, Douglas County authorities only drive as far as Fergus Falls because Clay County authorities will pick up the juveniles from there and drive them the rest of the way to the facility.
If juveniles would go to the facility in Willmar, Douglas County authorities would have to drive them the entire way.
Douglas County Sheriff Troy Wolbersen, who also attended the special meeting, noted that the round trip to Willmar is 140 miles, whereas the round trip to Fergus Falls is about 90 miles.
"It's much simpler to transport to Fergus Falls," said Wolbersen.
Douglas County Commissioner Norm Salto said that committing to the 2.5 beds per month would be two-tenths of a percent higher than what the county is committed to right now, which is 2.3 beds per month.
"They are asking for 2.5, that's not a lot higher," said Salto. "If we leave, then what's going to happen to the facility in Moorhead?"
Campbell explained that if Douglas County pulled out, it could result in a shutdown of the facility or the facility would be changed to a one-county facility and only house Clay County juveniles.
Salto noted that he felt the contract with the West Central Regional Juvenile Detention Center is a "good deal," and that Douglas County should move forward.
"I can't see going anywhere else," he said. "We have so much invested in it [the facility]."
After nearly an hour of discussion, the two Clay County commissioners and the director of the facility were asked to leave the room so that the commissioners could make a decision.
After little discussion, Commissioner Paul Anderson, who was not in favor of the 2.5 bed commitment, said he changed his mind and thought it would be a good idea to stay with the center in Moorhead.
Salto then made a motion to approve the 2.5 bed commitment, with provisions, and Anderson seconded the motion.
The motion was approved with a vote of 5-0.