YMC Board goes beyond Safe Avenues funding request

GRANITE FALLS — When nonprofit organizations ask counties or cities for money, getting more than they requested happens less than once in a blue moon.

It took place this week, however, when representatives from the Safe Avenues sexual assault crisis response group made a funding request to the Yellow Medicine County Board of Commissioners.

The Willmar-based nonprofit, which offers services in eight central Minnesota counties, began to serve Yellow Medicine County residents in 2018. A funding request for $1,500 from the 2020 county budget was presented along with statistics that show the number of victims that have already been helped.

Twelve were served county-wide in the first year, with help from a local office based at the Minnesota West campus in Granite Falls. It is staffed full time by outreach coordinator Kasey Baker.

Another seven people have already been served in 2019, making it very likely that the total for this year will involve an increase.

“We’ve made a good start,” said Safe Avenues Executive Director Jen Johnson. “We’re getting established in the county. Once people know we’re here, the numbers are expected to keep going up.”

She said the group gets most of its money at the federal and state levels, with additional support from private donations. Out of a budget of almost $2 million used to employ 42 staff members, only $64,000 came from counties in 2019.

Over half the county-based total comes from Kandiyohi County, which is the location of the regional Safe Avenues shelter used to provide temporary housing for domestic violence victims.

Johnson said requests from other counties are based partly on whether they receive both domestic and sexual assault service are just help for sexual assault victims.

In Yellow Medicine County, domestic violence service is coordinated through the Women’s Rural Advocacy Program. Johnson said the two agencies communicate on a frequent basis when they jointly serve a county, and that all staff are crossed-trained to promptly provide the best resources.

Commissioner Ron Antony responded with a suggestion to go beyond the $1,500 funding request. He said statistics already show that Safe Avenues is a good investment.

“If it helps even one person a year, it’s worth having an office in the county,” Antony said. “Fifteen hundred dollars doesn’t seem like enough. I think it should be more than that.”

To decide on an appropriate total the board asked what other counties contribute. McLeod County, with a larger population, gives $2,200 for its sexual assault response services. Neighboring Chippewa County gets both types of service and appropriates $2,700.

Antony then motioned to provide $2,000 out of next year’s budget, which was approved unanimously.

In other action, the board voted to proceed with repairs to diversion ditch repairs in Section 15 of Oshkosh Township near Canby as soon as weather conditions allow.

County Finance Director Lacey Rigge presented documentation showing that 10 different townships in the western part of the county paid $2,000 each in the late 1990s to establish a ditch repair fund. It was not indicated if those funds were one-time appropriations or an annual contribution.

Although costs of ditch work might exceed totals indicated, the board voted to proceed since a ditch permit from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resource designates the county as the permittee and assigns a responsibility for maintenance.

County Administrator Angie Steinbach advised the board that much of the ditch outlet area is still underwater, which might be an obstacle for meeting Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster funding deadlines for 2019 spring weather conditions. Some of the weather-related damage has already been identified since water has led to gulleys in nearby farm fields.

“It’s clear that something needs to be done,” said Commissioner Gary Johnson. “As a county we should help with it even though the county doesn’t own the ditch.”

Commissioners also voiced support for working with the city of Granite Falls to improve the walkway from the Minnesota River to Memorial Park.

Commissioner John Berends said the walkway has been in place for many years, at first as a way to get to the former bathhouse and riverside swimming beach that were part of the park. They were established by federal work crews in the 1930s.

Repeated flooding since the 1970s eventually led to a demolition of the bathhouse. Meanwhile parts of the walking path became covered with silt at an estimated depth of up to 18 inches.

Berends said the city would like to make the park access useful again in conjunction with a multi-stage grant supported plan coordinated by the regional Upper Minnesota Valley Development Commission. Facilities that still exist in Memorial Park include a riverside picnic shelter, campground, playground equipment, trails and an outdoor amphitheater with potential for restoration.

Plans for the walkway will include input from the Minnesota Department of Transportation because of the proximity of Minnesota Highway 67.

“There’s a long history of sharing the property,” Berends said. “If it could all be deeded to the city, the walkway would become part of Memorial Park with no county financial obligation.”


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