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Nobles board OKs drug task force funding

WORTHINGTON -- The Nobles County Commissioners approved per capita funding for the Buffalo Ridge Drug Task Force Tuesday, which prompted a sigh of relief from more than one person involved.

But Nobles County's commitment does not make the funding a done deal until three other counties approve the allotment. At this time, only one of those other counties -- Murray -- has done so.

When the Buffalo Ridge Drug Task Force realized it was in danger of losing future funding due to a cut in grants, it immediately went on the offensive, coming up with a plan to stay alive. Advocates visited with the boards of the four counties involved in the task force and touted the advantages of $2.50-per-capita funding beginning in 2009. Although the funding for 2009 was already secured by grants, the future looked dim -- and the sooner the task force began to gather money, the better.

All or nothing

Throughout a series of meetings with the county boards and the Buffalo Ridge Drug Task Force (BRDTF), one statement was often repeated -- all or none. Nobles, Pipestone, Rock and Murray counties would each have to dedicate the per capita funding, or none of them would.

While grants have helped fund the task force, the entities that have agents on the force end up paying some personnel support that has ranged from less than $8,000 per year to more than $100,000, according to figures supplied to Nobles County Administrator Mel Ruppert by BRDTF Commander Troy Appel. The amount depends on how many agents the entity has on the task force. Each contributing entity has also paid a membership fee for the past two years -- from $2,000 to $5,000.

At a Dec. 4 meeting between the counties and the BRDTF board, according to Nobles County Sheriff Kent Wilkening, officials from each of the counties said the money was designated for the per capita funding. It was after the meeting things seemed to fall apart. Concern over the lack of an agent from Rock County was at the bottom of the rift.

Lack of agent generates concern

Wilkening said he received a call from Rock County Sheriff Evan Verbrugge on the afternoon of Dec. 4. Verbrugge had just spoken with Rock County Administrator Kyle Oldre, who was allegedly told by Ruppert that Nobles County would not commit per capita funding unless Rock County put a deputy on the task force.

While Oldre would not confirm that allegation, he did say he and Ruppert had discussed the lack of an agent from Rock County after the meeting.

"He didn't say a word during the meeting, and that infuriated everybody," Oldre said last week. "What he indicated later was that his county board, and I think him personally, had a concern about Rock County's contribution. I wish he would have said it to everybody if he had an issue."

When asked why he hadn't spoken up at the meeting with his or the board's concern -- and had instead waited until after the meeting to discuss it with Oldre -- Ruppert said he had also discussed the situation and the board's concerns with Oldre in June.

Rock County's current inability to put an agent on the task force is more of a detriment to Rock County than to anyone, Wilkening stated, because it won't be able to provide as much information from the county to make drug busts. The fact that it is still willing to participate in the per capita funding -- knowing the county won't get as much out of it, he added -- should be commended.

According to an article in the Pipestone County Star regarding a local board meeting on Dec. 11, Pipestone County Coordinator Sharon Hanson told her board she had spoken with Ruppert, and he had indicated that the Nobles County Board was concerned about Rock County not supplying the same amount of input to the BRDTF.

"It has been a concern all along," Hanson told the Daily Globe.

After that report, Oldre became concerned. When he learned that both Pipestone and Nobles counties had removed money from their sheriff budgets and moved it into general funds, the concern got deeper. Oldre decided to move Rock County's funds, also.

"We did it as a response to Pipestone and Nobles," he explained. "We had no intention of doing that, but after seeing the Pipestone article and realizing what they had done with their financing, we pulled ours, too. The intent is all or none."

Early last week, just two days before the end of the year, Oldre said the budgets were done, and he still didn't know whether Rock County was in or out.

"And I'm the guy that should know," he stated. "I really don't know where we stand."

In Pipestone County, Hanson denied a rumor that Ruppert had called and asked their county not to participate, effectively ending the "all or none" deal.

"He would never do that," she stated. "He doesn't have that much power."

Of the Dec. 4 meeting, Ruppert said Tuesday that the counties had all agreed it was their intent to include the per capita funding in their budgets, but that his board still had concerns because of Rock County's lack of an agent.

"It had been a concern from the onset," he stated. "Not because of the validity of the program. There is no question the task force is a good thing for this area."

Ruppert said Rock County's lack of an agent was brought up at the meeting, but the BRDTF was OK with the situation.

As much as Rock County would like to put an agent on the task force, it is fiscally unable to do so, but county officials hope that will change by 2011. With levy limits and budget shortfalls, Oldre said, now is not the time for him to go to his board and tell them he needs another officer.

"That is the reality," he added.

Pipestone funding uncertain

As of Tuesday, Hanson still didn't know what her board will decide at its meeting next week.

"I suppose the next decision will be when we get a bill in the mail, are we going to pay it or not," she said.

The money from Pipestone County has been set aside, but with the economy and the uncertainty ahead, Hanson said they may need flexibility going into 2009 in the event the state starts cutting funding. The board may evaluate later in 2009.

"Maybe I could pose this to the board," she said. "If (the task force) has funding for 2009, then let's get through 2009 and look at 2010 and 2011. ... We can make the 2010 funding. We can make it happen when it needs to happen."

Nobles County's per capita funding was approved at an amount of $51,445. Murray County has committed $22,000. Rock and Pipestone counties would each have a per capita amount of approximately $22,000 to $25,000.