Commissioners learn Fillmore County will be site of veterans treatment court

Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy
Fillmore County commissioners had several guests sitting before them during the Tuesday, June 4, board meeting. Included among these was Freeborn County Judge Ross Leuning who came before the board with a presentation of the Third Judicial District Veterans’ Treatment Court. He explained how the establishment of an 11-county treatment court would benefit veterans who return from service with substance abuse and other issues. 
He explained, “This opens up state funding for veterans’ treatment court…we’ve divided the district in halves…the eastern half would be Wabasha, Winona, Houston, Fillmore and Olmsted. We talked about the location of the eastern court for a long time, and the chief judge recently made the decision that we want to locate the eastern court in Fillmore County. At court sessions, veterans have a Veterans’ Administration (VA) justice officer who plays the role of identifying what the person is eligible for. Fillmore County has informally been leading this because the county attorney and veterans’ services officer (VSO) have been doing this in an informal way, and unfunded.”
Leuning outlined that the Third District’s treatment court would operate on an initial grant of $500,000 for the first three years, after which a federal supplemental grant would extend the program for another three years. 
“At the end of six years, we would be eligible for state funding. I can’t say that the state grant would be ongoing, but after six years, we’d know whether this court is a success or not,” Leuning said. “We’d bring in an outside evaluator, and if after six years it’s not the way it should be, why should we continue it? And if we come back and ask for money from the counties, it would be per capita, so if Fillmore County uses only 1 percent, we’d only ask for 1 percent.” 
Board Chairman Duane Bakke wanted to know, “We’re already doing something like this in a community corrections model – two of the five counties in this are in community corrections. What would we get out of this?” 
Leuning replied that the Third District treatment court would coordinate probationary programming and tasks, “making sure that we’re all covering a base and not letting things drop.” 
He continued, “This is a very valuable thing to our counties. Most counties like Ramsay and Hennepin have enough veterans in the program to make it possible, but there aren’t as many in places like Fillmore and Houston, and this is our way to getting it to them by bunching them together. One in six veterans come back from Iraq with PTSD and some of those have some kind of substance abuse issue. Twenty veterans commit suicide every day. That’s four times the national average – Minnesota is only second to Pennsylvania – and 70 percent of veterans here don’t have connections to the VA. If we can catch people in the early stages of dysfunction, we can help.” 
DNR request
Brandon Schad of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) sought approval of the purchase of a .9 acre access drive adjacent to the existing Choice Water Management Area (WMA) to be used for allowing public and management access. 
“We would like to pursue an addition to our Choice WMA, and it’s a very small parcel owned by Carl Smaby. It would provide us access to the existing WMA on the Root River. This would give us the advantage of being able to access the WMA without having to cross Mr. Smaby’s land, because right now, we’re getting permission from Mr. Smaby, but this would allow us direct access.”
He added that if the DNR saw a need for public parking, it would put in a lot.
“Mr. Smaby is concerned about people being on his property adjacent. We would put in posts and gates to make sure people don’t go where they shouldn’t go,” Schad added. “We would be buying this with Reinvest Minnesota funds – we would be buying this internally.” 
Motions were made and passed to allow the purchase. 
SMIF projects in the county
 The board welcomed Alissa Oeltjenbruns of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF), hearing a presentation on SMIF projects taking place or in the works. 
She noted, “In early childhood, we’ve provided a grant to the Lanesboro School District to help the youngest ones learn how to regulate themselves as they go into kindergarten. We’re also very aware of the childcare crisis going on right now, that there are kiddos that do not have a place to go for quality care so their parents can stay in the workforce. We also give out books every year, and on June 19, we’ll be handing out over 1,300 books that are actually going into the hands of children. It’s another tool for us to use to make sure our youngest residents are ready for kindergarten.” 
She highlighted that SMIF also has other programming to encourage entrepreneurship. “We’re on the midway point of the Rural Entrepreneurship Program, a three-year program with a focus on business attraction rather than assisting current and aspiring entrepreneurs, finding that there’s more economic growth if we assist them,” she said. “There’s a grant through SMIF that’s being used to start an incubator and accelerator space so that someone interested in opening or expanding their business can. Keep us in mind – we were part of the opening of AJ’s Diner in Fountain. Also, the Small Town Grant round is coming up, up to $10,000 to focus on what’s going to make a difference in your communities long-term.”
Oeltjenbruns also spoke about the establishment of community funds. “Something we are very proud of at SMIF is to play a role in this region through community foundations. Mabel is under our umbrella now, and Sue Kolling will be there tonight to talk about the success of the Spring Valley Area Community Foundation.”
Commissioner Randy Dahl said, “Thank you for the work you do.” 
Commissioner Mitch Lentz added, “Thank you for getting involved in our part of the region because you’ve gotten people to donate in Spring Valley and Wykoff, even if they won’t support a school together, they’ve donated to something together.”
Sheriff John DeGeorge spoke about a contract with the Sentence to Serve (STS) program, running July 2019 to June 2021, as well as a two-year contract with the state of Minnesota for the Institution Community Work Crew (ICWC) program, which sends state inmates to county jails to serve their sentences. 
Regarding the STS program, he stated, “Our responsibility would be 75 percent of the cost of the crew leader, $142,621.60 total two-year contract.” 
Those costs are covered in part by charges for work done by the crew for various cities and businesses, including the county using the crew to carry out its relocation of the taxpayer services offices. 
The STS program’s contract was approved, after which the ICWC contract was given a nod as well. The state’s reimbursement cap stands at $225,000, and if the state reaches that amount while housing its inmates in Fillmore County’s jail, DeGeorge explained that no more inmates will be sent to the county. 
Commissioner Marc Prestby made the initial motion, and Lentz seconded. The motion was approved. 
DeGeorge then informed the commissioners that empty positions within his department have been backfilled to form a full roster of sergeants and deputies. 
Human Resources Officer Kristina Kohn brought forward the first reading of the county’s new employment policy, as well as the first reading of a new announcement recruitment and selection policy and a request for early retirement for Kathy Thiss through the early retirement incentive program (ERIP) after ten years of service to the county. Dahl made the motion to grant Thiss her early retirement, thanking her for her service. The rest of the board concurred. 
Highway Engineer Ron Gregg dealt with the awarding of the Carimona Township bridge replacement project on Jackpine Road to Minnowa Construction for $199,717.19. The commissioners obliged with a vote in favor. 
The consent agenda included approving a permit for a display of fireworks at Eagle Cliff Campground outside of Lanesboro on July 5.