Drugs prove costly for county
Drugs, especially the resurgence of meth, may be driving Hubbard County's out-of-home placement costs of kids.
Hubbard County Social Services Director Daryl Bessler said his department had exhausted its 2012 budget by June.
"It's a difficult thing," he acknowledged. "Meth drug use, from what I'm hearing, has created some of the problem, why we're seeing more costs for out-of-home placements."
As city, county and task force officers continue making what could be record numbers of drug arrests, no one wants the bragging rights. With drug use comes enforcement.
Hubbard County Sheriff Cory Aukes is reluctant to discuss specifics of the campaign against drugs, saying he doesn't want to tip off dealers to the particulars of the enforcement situation.
"We've got lots of stuff going," is all Park Rapids Police Chief Terry Eilers will say.
The court reports are full of drug possession charges.
But perhaps the best barometer is the toll on children.
"Out-of home we basically contract with providers to provide service to help parents with issues that are preventing their children from operating in a normalized capacity," Bessler said.
"And so we have folks that work with the families and kids and it is in my estimation far better to help them if there's some shortcomings on the part of the parenting skills, let's beef up the parenting skills rather than pull the children out which is so traumatic to kids.
"And it's extremely costly to place kids in a substantive care facility or program or home," Bessler added. "We have always taken the position that we will spend what we need to in the provision of in-home services as a way of essentially helping parents be the parents."
The county's costs for the juvenile center, just the probation costs, are averaging $26,000 to $30,000 a month, Bessler estimated.
"They provide a residential setting and treatment services. The education costs are paid by the school, which is an addition to what we have to pay for that. That's one of the cheaper types of those facilities.
"I've gotta believe (and the sheriff picks up the secure placements) there's probably in the vicinity of six, seven kids a month that are going there plus whatever is on the secure side," Bessler said.
"And we have other facilities, kids go to Grand Rapids and again we're shelling out thousands of dollars there. Our costs are up. The first six months we already spent the budget for the entire year and that was a concern and it's still a concern."
A poor economy is only one factor.
"I cannot really say why. We've had placements of bigger families, say five kids, it's a lot of money," he said.
"I'm being told by staff that meth use is part of the problem," he said. "When those parents are involved in that the children have to be placed someplace. You can use relatives but that isn't always possible either. Sometimes the relatives are also involved in it," Bessler said.
"Two years ago the Hubbard County Sheriff's Office made a commitment to fighting drug abuse when I dedicated an officer to work on a drug task force," Aukes said.
"Since then, Hubbard County not only belongs to a drug task force but also is part of a federal drug task force.
"In doing so we have gotten the assistance from other narcotics agents as well as money for overtime and a vehicle. We have made numerous drug arrests in Hubbard County, seized assets bought with drug money, and taken sizeable amounts of drugs off the streets."
And it is that aggressive stance that, while resulting in out-of-home placements, Aukes hopes will pay off in the end.
"The Sheriff's Office will continue to work hard every day to make Hubbard County a better place to live and for our children to grow up," he said.
Another aspect of children's services could result in the county spending even more money.
It will hire a new child support officer. But in doing so, Hubbard County commissioners may give the green light to take experienced staff from another county.
It has always been reluctant to do so, Bessler said, because it creates ill will. But the county, due to recent turnover, may be in a desperate situation.
Because the department had no physical space to put another worker, its move this week into new quarters, and a recently released Department of Human Services report showing a crushing caseload, gave momentum to the idea of hiring a new child support officer.
"For 2011 reports, in our county we had 1,314 cases, we have 4.4 staff (full-time equivalents)," Bessler said.
"Wadena County has 888 cases and has 4.3 staff persons.
"My point is, using case numbers is probably the best way to compare (workloads) among the counties in the state because we're doing essentially the same thing," he said.
"The one thing we've had going for us is our insurance plan, which is a concern of the board, the high cost of our insurance plan, but that also has become a means when people look at the total package... the benefits are going to be better."
But it is the federal aspect of support collections that aggravates Bessler, he admitted, and tempts him to "game the system."
In a gallows humor way, he griped to the board about the criteria used to evaluate cases and work efficiency.
The department was recently targeted for "corrective action" because an audit of the support files showed two cases in which no collections had been made.
"Some of the requirements they impose on us to do corrective action plans, or the standards they establish essentially make no sense," Bessler fumed.
"One of them was the frequency of current support," he added. "If you have a case that has current support, the order is there and you're collecting, if you haven't collected at least a buck or a cent for all intents and purposes, it doesn't matter how much you collect.
They're interested in whether you've collected a buck during the time frame. You have to do corrective action plans when they do the reviews if you don't meet the standards and I'm not sure if it's 90 percent of the cases or less."
So he suggested dividing a $10 bill into small increments to place a bit of cash in the deadbeat files. A penny here or there would solve the compliance issue, he suggested.
"Rather than do a corrective action plan I'd prefer to throw a buck in (here and there) and it would save us money rather than having to monitor this stuff," he said of the huge amount of administrative work required.
"Sometimes they establish standards that just don't make sense," he reiterated. "They're more interested in getting something done in terms of timing, collecting a buck, collecting a cent, that the amount of money it costs to collect it."