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Paynesville Press - January 28, 2004

Stearns County attorney will prosecute cases for three cities

By Michael Jacobson

The Stearns County Board of Commissioners took the following actions at their meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 20.

*The board approved having the Stearns County Attorney's office handle criminal cases for Brooten, St. Augusta, and Sauk Centre. Under two-year contracts, the county will prosecute misdemeanor, petty misdemeanor, and gross misdemeanor charges in these cities. The county has always prosecuted felony cases throughout the county. (In towns with populations less than 600, the county handles all criminal cases automatically.)

The change is coming about in light of budget cuts many cities are facing. Officials from various cities came to the county last spring, desperate to find ways to save money at the request of their city councils.

Contracts vary from city to city, depending on the volume of cases each handles in a typical year, but all noticed some cost savings. Sauk Centre signed for $32,000, and St. Augusta for $11,000. Brooten will pay on a per-case basis.

These contracts could be a model for other cities in the county.

*The board approved the distribution of a new brochure to homeowners planning to build in rural areas. The Stearns County Environmental Services Depart-ment developed the brochure to educate new homeowners about rural living. There is an apparent need to make homeowners aware of the smells, sounds, and sights that they would experience in the country.

With the increased rate of development in the rural areas, this is a real sensitive issue in Stearns County. Livestock producers in the county are concerned about the increased pressure from development and their ability to operate their farms with their new neighbors. The goal is to encourage new homeowners and farmers to work together to avoid conflicts.

This brochure is similar to one developed last year in Ottawa County, Michigan. That brochure incorporates a scratch and sniff cowpie. At some point in the future, Stearns County's brochure may also include a manure/feedlot odor.

The brochure will be distributed to people applying for a permit to construct a new home and to land developers proposing to build developments in rural areas. The brochure will also be available on the county's website or to anyone who wishes to pick one up at environmental services.

*The board heard a report about the problems of homelessness in Stearns County. The number of homeless people in our area is going up. In the last four years, the number of homeless in Stearns County jumped 27 percent. It's predicted that these numbers will continue to grow. Only slightly more than half of the demand for emergency shelter beds come from single adults, the rest from children and families.

Statewide, on any given night, an estimated 8,600 people are homeless. Of that number, over 3,000 are children and of that number nearly half are under the age of seven.

More of the homeless are working, too. In 1991, 19 percent of the homeless worked; in 2000, the number of working homeless jumped to 41 percent. Other statistics include that over a third of the homeless had a serious mental illness; 28 percent of the youth had been sexually abused; 47 percent had been physically abused; and 28 percent had been placed in child foster care. Lastly, more than a third of all homeless mothers were fleeing the abuse of a partner.

This was the first of a three-part series on the problem of homelessness. This week, the board will discuss the cost of emergency shelters. The third presentation, in February, will address the issues of chemical dependency, mental illness, and the homelessness.

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