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Juvenile center's client number down, budget tighter

Friday, November 13, 2009

Plymouth County juveniles charged with serious crimes are sometimes ordered to go to the Youth Emergency Services Center by judges to await their fates.

It costs the county $150 per day, per person to house an individual at the detention center, which rents space on the campus of the Cherokee Mental Health Institute.

Plymouth is one of a 14-county consortium in northwest Iowa that uses the Youth Emergency Services (YES) Center, in Cherokee.

Supervisor Don Kass, a member of the YES Board of Directors representing Plymouth County, shared concerns about a murky future if the number of the center's clients continues to decline.

"In recent months we haven't had as many youth to run that in the black," Kass said. "It takes about nine kids to break even. Last count, there was about five kids in there."

Cheryl McGrory, director of the YES Center, said the number of clients at the center is down currently, but that's nothing out of the norm.

"We have ups and downs. We are just currently in a down time," McGrory said. "We are cutting back costs like everybody else in the state."

Throughout her 10 years at the center, it has had a very low operating cost, which has enabled the building of cash reserves, McGrory said.

"We put aside money for a rainy day," she said. "Guess what, it's a rainy day."

McGrory said she continues to study the budget to see where costs can be cut.

For example, if a juvenile is on medication parents are asked to bring it with their child, she said.

"Those things can really get expensive when kids are on seven, eight medications," McGrory said.

Other savings include an agreement that became effective July 1 with the employee union that workers will pay a portion of their health insurance premiums. Previously the center had paid those costs in full, McGrory said.

"(Also) staff have taken a 3 percent salary increase instead of anything more because they knew that our client count was down," McGrory said.

Although she doesn't know the specific reason why the number of clients is down, McGrory said tracking services YES is implementing in 13 counties could be a factor.

A tracker is someone who, at the direction of a juvenile court officer, keeps an eye on a juvenile released back into the community after being charged with a crime, McGrory said.

"They are the eyes and ears of JCOs (juvenile court officer)," she said. "Are tracking services in these communities helping to keep these kids out of detention? We don't have any hard statistics."

Nine trackers have been put in 13 counties in the last four years, McGrory said.

Another factor making it a tight budget year for the YES Center is a decrease in state reimbursement dollars, which are a percentage of the center's operating costs, McGrory said.

"Everybody got 17 percent last year as opposed to 22 percent the year before," she said. "That's a big hit for us."

But the YES Center and other detention centers across the state are not directly affected by the 10 percent statewide cuts assessed by Gov. Chet Culver, McGrory said.

The state reimbursement is considered a dedicated fund specifically for juvenile detention centers. The money comes through the Iowa Department of Transportation from fines levied on people charged for operating while intoxicated, McGrory said.

Ken Chalstrom, a Clay County supervisor and chairman of the YES Board of Directors, said the only way the center's state reimbursement can be cut is by the Legislature.

"It's not as much as in the past. It doesn't mean it's not enough to meet our needs," Chalstrom said of this year's reimbursement. "What it means is we are not going to be stocking away reserves."

He explained the YES Board is run by county supervisors to try to save county taxpayers money but at the same time provide adequate services through the center.

Even as the YES Center is going through a down time, it will continue business as usual, Chalstrom said.

"We're not planning anything out of the ordinary," he said. "We're in pretty good shape."

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Wich always begs the question, what happens if everyone is good and the services temporarily aren't needed, will they have to look harder for victims to maintain the service and assistance? It is a sad statement but valid to question. The services of detention and corrective services need to be on thier own budget that is not dependent on number of individuals being served.

-- Posted by Michael Lamb on Mon, Nov 16, 2009, at 12:47 PM

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