By Dan Reed
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

Carlton County 2015 budget discussion tumultuous


The plight of unwanted animals, resolution of youth legal problems, and county struggles with expanding health care coverage for Minnesota residents prompted heated, sometimes pointed, discussion among the five commissioners on the Carlton County Board before a 2015 levy was approved with a 4.95 percent increase.

For the second time in December a delegation of supporters for the Cloquet animal shelter run by Friends of Animals Humane Society came to the budget-setting meeting of the county board to request county help for the facility. "We have cut expenses wherever we can," explained Cindy Haglin, Friends of Animals director, "and we have increased volunteer hours from 200 to 400 hours a month. But we now need your help." She added during the discussion, "We do not euthanize to make room for new animals and thus we are considered a no-kill facility."

Board Chairman Dick Brenner said, "I thought we had decided earlier that we would give $13,500 for the first three months and see what the facts and figures say after that." He continued, "Your shelter occupies a very valuable piece of property. It could be sold for another use and add to our tax base. Another site, not so valuable commercially, could be used for your shelter."

As the discussion continued, Dennis Genereau, county coordinator, observed, "You have to be more efficient and plan wisely. In my mind if there is a choice between children or animals in county programs provided, I will always choose children."

Finally, the board went on record:

- In exchange for the county fiscal commitment, a commissioner should sit on the animal shelter board.

- The current shelter property should be sold and other options should be explored.

- $40,000 budgeted this coming year with a close look at shelter finances.

Restorative Justice

asks for more staff

A request came to the county board for an additional $75,000 for the Restorative Justice services program. Two people now are staffing the relatively new program at a cost of $140,000 per year. An average caseload centers around 25.

Restorative Justice works toward early intervention for children in trouble before they become prison statistics.

Chairman Brenner commented, "Let's keep the current funding level this year and consider other avenues. Perhaps a probation employee should be moved to this program. I don't want to expand this program without support from other entities like the schools."

Commissioner Tom Proulx countered, "We want to intervene early or we will see those struggling later in the penal system. You're going to pay now or pay later more."

After an emotional back and forth, with even a mother in the audience praising the program for saving her son, Commissioner Gary Peterson offered a compromise and appeared to get the support for a part time additional person with no benefits for an extra $35,000. Peterson hoped more discussion would ensue in the Finance Committee meetings this coming year to look at all options for the Restorative Justice program.

New enrollees in MNsure

overload county caseloads

Dave Lee, director of Health and Human Services, requested more money to handle the flood of new enrollees into Minnesota health care. "I know this is at the spur of the moment and has not gone through the Finance Committee," Lee explained, "but I need permission to transfer one person to work out of their class and a .6 position to be hired outright to process the backlog of MNsure cases in Carlton County."

Lee went on, "The people new to MNsure has doubled this last year and we provided services for 1,854 people this last year. We had not anticipated this surge of health care enrollees. A lot of this cost will be reimbursed by the state but we need a $25,000 short-term commitment from the county board to fund this effort. The state technology has not kept pace with this increase and additional staff are needed to work through the delivery of service. All counties are struggling to handle this health care surge."

When contacted by phone, Rep. Mike Sundin stated, "It's unfortunate that the technology required to enroll people for MNsure isn't keeping up with the demands for the program. Thanks go out to Carlton County and others for helping to make the enrollment process as smooth as possible. Two important things to remember — the need for medical insurance is being satisfied for an increasing number of people. Now our hospitals are being properly compensated for their services rather than providing free services in the emergency rooms for the uninsured."


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