Commissioners attempt to save Victim Services
State cuts could eliminate program
Wednesday, October 03, 2012 4:48 AM
On Sept. 25, Houston County Commissioners struggled to find a way to continue the Victim Services program ran by Coordinator Michelle Hermann.
For the past 20 years, a state grant has paid for the position. This year, due to a new competitive bidding process, those funds have been withdrawn. The program is officially de-funded at the end of September.
"How do you compete for a victims' grant?" chairman Jack Miller asked. "Are our victims less important than someone else's?"
Hermann appeared with County Attorney Jamie Hammell, stating that proceeds from fines in her budget could probably sustain her office for a few weeks.
Commissioners told her to continue on while they find a way to keep the program running until year's end. After that, the county will need some help.
One idea that was floated is to ask cities to ante up to help pay for the position. By consensus, the board asked county staff, including Personnel Director Tess Kruger to work with cities to develop a formula to help fund victim services.
Finance Director Carol Lapham suggested utilizing line items from departments that use the service to scrape by for the remainder of 2012.
Out-of-county prisoner housing still has some money remaining, she said. No specific funding stream was approved by the board, but Herman was not told to close up shop, either.
Hammell gave commissioners one other problem to ponder, "The county could be liable if the needs of victims are not addressed," she stated.
"This is terribly frustrating," Miller said. "Philosophically, I'm 100% for funding this, but we've got to have the resources to do it. We spend millions for the perpetrators of the crime and struggle to find $40,000 to help the victims."
Class-action suit approved
In other news, the board voted to join a class action lawsuit that Hennepin County has filed on behalf of all Minnesota counties.
Aimed at recovering unpaid deed transfer taxes from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the suit will challenge the assertion that those federal agencies are exempt from the tax, particularly in foreclosure cases.
Hennepin County officials have stated that at least $10 million is owed to Minnesota due to non-payment of the tax. Three percent of those fees are supposed to be retained by counties.
Frac sand issues reviewed
Miller also reported that a meeting between lawyers representing frac sand interests and the county was held recently in Minneapolis.
"We presented what we felt the county needed to move forward," he said. Attorneys from both sides are said to be in contact, but no agreements have yet been hammered out, Miller added.
Miller said that the Houston County Frac Sand Study Committee continues to meet, and "the goal is to push forward with getting some things for the ordinances on paper, and attempt to wrap this up as quickly as we can; (But) we want to make sure that what we do is defensible."
"Thirty years ago, when conditional use permits were issued, it was a different world," Miller stated. "Handshakes or notes on pieces of paper seemed to suffice."
The revised mining ordinance will incorporate elements from other counties, Miller said, but "there are differences that make Houston County unique. What we come up with has to fit Houston County."
Commissioner Teresa Walter noted that paying for enforcement of the new ordinance is a big issue, since ordinances without enforcement are essentially worthless.
Commissioner Justin Zmyewski suggested that permit charges for frac sand mines should help pay for the staff that enforces the new ordinance.