New law will cost county plenty
If cuts in state aid weren’t enough, the Legislature may make it tougher when county officials start putting together the next budget.
A bill introduced in the House proposes to increase the county’s contribution to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) from 10 to 30 percent.
“It’s certainly on our radar. That’s a significant amount of money,” says Brad Frisch, mental health supervisor for Martin and Faribault counties.
“This has more than peaked our interest,” he adds.
Following the November 2003 kidnapping and murder by a sex offender, Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed an executive order.
As a result, all level 3 sex offenders — who are deemed most likely to re-offend — released from prison must be reviewed by prosecutors for possible civil commitment to MSOP.
Martin County currently has five enrolled in the program, while Faribault County has seven.
Frisch says the total annual budget for this program, for both counties, is about $135,000. He says it costs $11,972 a year for each person to be in the program.
If state lawmakers approve the 20 percent increase, Frisch says, the annual cost would jump to more than $430,000.
Faribault County Commissioner John Roper says commissioners became aware of the contribution increase during a joint board meeting last month.
“We’re financially strapped as it is. This would be a direct cost to the county we have no control over. Something has to be done,” says Roper, who is chairman of the joint board.
The MSOP has been criticized for its lack of success, yet costs and the number of individuals continue to rise.
In 2003, there were nearly 200 civilly committed sex offenders in Minnesota. As of January, there were more than 650.
MSOP’s budget also has risen sharply. In 2004, it was slightly more than $20 million. This year it is expected to be around $65 million.
Counties appear to have an advocate in District 24B Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder.
A bill sponsored by Cornish would lock up the worst offenders indefinitely.
“It calls for a more scientific determination of who really needs to be put in jail. It will put the really bad ones away,” he says.
On Thursday, the House passed a criminal justice bill that sends sexual predators to prison rather than being civilly committed.
Cornish says the new sentencing guidelines will help ease the financial difficulties of the sex offender treatment program.