County considers drug halfway house input, proposals

Members of the Barron County Board Executive Committee discussed the pros and cons of a county-operated halfway house for recovering substance abusers during their regular monthly meeting Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018, at the County Government Center.

Jeff French, county administrator, recommended that his office “draft a position paper on the history of the issue” for the committee’s September meeting.

The paper will examine two proposals for the former Dallas Care & Rehab center, which closed earlier this year after its owners, Batavia, Ill.-based Care and Rehab, Inc., announced they could no longer operate the facility profitably.

In May, Care & Rehab representatives suggested the county buy the property and convert it into a center for recovering substance abusers. In the meantime, Chetek resident Fred Bannister proposed that the county operate the building with funds from public and private and/or charitable sources. County officials are also investigating whether an outside agency specializing in drug and substance abuse rehabilitation might be interested in operating the facility.

French said the initial proposal from Bannister “clearly indicated he wanted to do this without state and county money, but he soon realized there’s not enough private and church (funding) available.”

In a second draft of his proposal, Bannister recommended a plan that calls for $216,000 of county money, and that a committee of supervisors would oversee the operation.

The position paper will examine the financial implications for the plans to own and/or operate the halfway house, French added.

“The best bang for our buck is that the county buys the building and we’re finished (spending county funds),” he said. “The question is, do you want to provide $200,000 per year indefinitely?”

The County Board already has 31 standing committees and would need to create a new one to operate the facility under the Bannister plan, he added.

The alternative would be to “negate the county involvement” in running the facility, French said. To that end, an investigation is underway by Dave Armstrong, executive director of the Barron County Economic Development Corporation.

“Dave has contacted two nonprofit (substance abuse treatment) agencies that actually do this,” he said.

Supervisor Louie Okey, Dist. 16, Birchwood, who chairs the Executive Committee and County Board, pointed out that substance abuse costs need to be put in perspective.

“I’d rather spend $200,000 on prevention than $1 million on the back end with (treating) addiction,” he said.

Committee members also noted the work being done by therapist Doris Jasperson, of Rice Lake. Stacey Frolik, Health and Human Services director, said her department hires Jasperson to work with substance abusers one-on-one.

“Doris does a great job,” Frolik said. “She gets funding from our department to help (substance abusers) on an individual basis.”

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