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SIOUX CITY | Woodbury County Supervisor Jeremy Taylor on Tuesday aired concerns that more than $250,000 in taxpayer money is going through a regional governmental entity to the Sanford Community Center for mental health programs.

During the weekly Woodbury County Board of Supervisors meeting, Taylor said he isn't sure the outreach specialists of the Sanford Center, a nonprofit social agency located in Sioux City, are the right people to help teens with mental health needs. Taylor pointed to uncertainty about the skill set and educational background of Sanford's outreach specialists.

In a Journal interview outside the meeting, Sanford Center Director Fitz Grant said, "We have the people, the experience in place, to provide the service that we are providing."

Grant added that Taylor hadn't spoken to him about his concerns prior to the meeting.

"If he had concerns, what better way to find out than to come here and see our programs and talk," Grant said.

Taylor is seeking to ensure that taxpayer money given to support mental health services is well spent by the Sioux Rivers Regional Mental Health and Disability Services entity. Sioux Rivers gets state and county money to deliver mental health services to low-income people in Woodbury, Plymouth and Sioux counties, after a state-mandated reorganization in 2014 that moved away from individual counties overseeing services.

Taylor shared the most recent sharing agreement between Sioux Rivers, the Sioux City School District and the Sanford Center, which is dated June 12, 2017, for the school year ahead. That agreement covers $290,600 for five outreach specialists to be placed through the combined decisions of Sanford and school district officials. Of that money, $30,000 comes from the school district and $260,600 from Sioux Rivers. Additional money of $215,000 goes to Siouxland Mental Health Center in Sioux City.

The agreement says services for five outreach specialists and up to 85 hours per week on therapy services can be provided to the school district by Siouxland Mental Health Center.

Prior to working with Sioux Rivers, back to 2001 the school district had received federal funds in the Safe Schools/Healthy Students Initiative. Those grant funds expired and Sioux Rivers has annually provided funds for the continuing programming related to the mental health pieces contained in that grant, the agreement summarizes.

Grant said all work by Sanford employees is recapped in regular reports related to the program. He said many school children have anger, resentment and distrust issues, and that Sanford programs can proactively "help their mental health in a positive way, by helping them develop strategies for coping with difficult situations and work toward a positive future for themselves."

Grant added that Sanford staff have the ability to recognize kids with mental health issues, and those children get referred to therapists at Siouxland Mental Health Center.

Taylor raised several questions, including, "what mechanisms are in place to ensure services are being rendered as a region in the way that the Legislature originally intended?"

Taylor is a member of not only the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors, but also the board of the Sioux Rivers Regional entity. He shared his concerns in a July 6 letter to Shane Walter, of Sioux County, who serves as the leader of the Sioux Rivers group.

The issue was on the county board meeting agenda item as a discussion item, so no action was taken. Taylor said he hoped Sioux Rivers officials educate themselves on the issues he raised, toward future decisions on whether funding should continue to go to Sanford.

Walter was not at the meeting Tuesday, but Patty Erickson-Puttmann, the Woodbury County service coordinator for Sioux Rivers, was there. Erickson-Puttmann said the Sanford personnel have broad educational backgrounds that were helpful in their expertise.

School district officials were not at the meeting. A statement from the communications department to the Journal said, "We value this partnership and see the Sanford Center as a valuable community partner. Proper management of taxpayer money is very important and in recognizing that, we also understand the need for the supervisors to discuss their portion of the funding."

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County and education reporter

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