Driving County Roads

An on line journal sharing my views. The content reflects my background as a rural person employed in agriculture and as a retired elected official of local government.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Remembering Esbj

This week, the St. Peter area lost Rev. Bob Esbjornson, a pastor, scholar, teacher, and a wise man with much to offer. My connection with Rev. Esbjornson was only as a listener in his audiences. I was not fortunate enough to have him as a teacher. I was fortunate to be able to read his writings. One of his books, “A Christian in Politics” has been a source of inspiration in my years on the Nicollet County Board of Commissioners. I would like to share “good stuff” from that book.
- There is a law at work in the political world and all human activities - the law of mutual helpfulness: in order to get, a man must give. This command, in political language is called JUSTICE. In order to receive, man is forced to serve his neighbor. Thus justice is not different from helpful love.
- The state is not a lord, but a servant. It exists because the people need it. It serves to preserve order, to protect the clashing self-interests of society. By doing so, the state creates conditions which promote the welfare of the people.
- Lust for power is the demon in politics. This demon has an opportunity to flourish because the state is given a monopoly on the power of the sword. Political power itself is not evil, but the lust for power is evil and dangerous.
- In a democracy, no one man or one class of people is the "magistrate". Theoretically, All people are magistrates, each in the measure that he aggressively seeks political power and participates in political maneuvering. This process checks the power lust and the selfish ambitions of any one group or person.
- The more people there are who are active in politics, the less possible it is for a small clique to have the complete advantage. The groups counter-act one another.

It is through Christians with a sense of vocation and a readiness to 'go the second mile' to do more than is demanded of them - that the redemptive grace of Christ enters the political arena to offset the demonic element in politics.
The Christian in politics seeks aggressively to do more good than is accomplished by all the pressures of conflicting and compromising and bargaining self-interest groups. He speaks for the un-represented groups and demands benefits for the under dogs, even though they cannot help him politically. He appeals to the consciences of men, not just their self-concern. He sub-ordinates his personal ambition to his public duty. The Christian acts like this because he believes he is called by Christ to serve his neighbor.END.

Nicollet Library Project

Nicollet County has never had a county library, but our citizens have been the beneficiaries of excellent library services. Nicollet County has purchased library services for our rural citizens from city libraries located in St. Peter and North Mankato. We have purchased the use of the Bookmobile from Blue Earth County by going through the city of North Mankato. As a result, the Bookmobile has been our "library" for rural Nicollet County. (Rural Nicollet County refers to all areas other than St. Peter and North Mankato).

The tax dollars that Nicollet County spends for library services come only from rural Nicollet County i.e. 13 townships and the cities of Nicollet, Lafayette, and Courtland. The cities of St. Peter and North Mankato fund their libraries through a levy that applies only to their citizens.Nicollet County is also a member of the Traverse des Sioux Regional Library System. This membership allows our citizens to use any library in our nine county region and access to materials nationwide, in fact, all over the world. Recognizing that Nicollet County residents are using many libraries (most likely the facilities located in their place of work, cities they shop in, or where their children attend school); the Nicollet County Board of Commissioners has decided to redirect our library funding.

Nicollet County is mandated by the State of Minnesota to fund library services. Since we have no library, it is challenging to spend the maintenance of effort (MOE) dollars in a way that most directly benefits our rural citizens. The maintenance of effort refers to a formula used by the State Department of Education to determine the dollar amount Nicollet County must spend for library services.A study done in the summer of 2006 determined that the $30,000 we were paying for eleven Bookmobile stops in rural Nicollet County was not cost beneficial. The 2006 Library Task Force recommended directing our dollars away from the Bookmobile and toward a new cooperative venture to offer public library services at the Nicollet Public School. The Bookmobile stops were reduced to four. The study also recommended we continue purchasing services from the cities of St. Peter and North Mankato for the rural residents using those libraries. It should be noted that the Task Force and the Nicollet County Board recognize that Nicollet County residents use the New Ulm, Gaylord, Le Sueur, Cleveland, Winthrop, Mankato and other libraries. The system allows this access as part of the reciprocity privileges of being a member of Traverse des Sioux Regional Library.

Several years ago, the Nicollet School officials indicated an interest in public library services. Renewed talks between Nicollet County, the Nicollet Public School, and the city of St. Peter have led to the county contracting with the St. Peter Library Board to offer public library services at the school in Nicollet. As of this writing, negotiations are taking place. It is possible that the Nicollet Library Project will be up and running by January of 2008. Please watch local news media for announcements of the start of the project. End

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Minnemishinona Falls Ceremony

Today, at 2 pm the county board will hold a short program- sort of a "grand opening" for the Minnemishinona Falls Scenic Byway. There has been some publicity in one of the metro papers about Nicollet County obtaining ownership of the falls. There is agreement among many that it is right and proper for the county to preserve this natural resouce and allow the public to safely view this scenic area.
It is a scenic byway. The area is not conducive to other activities. Nicollet County already has a large park at 7-Mile Creek that is well used. The falls area is meant to be a place to visit for a short time period - to view, relax, and enjoy the wonders of nature.
Citizens are concerned about the cost, and rightly so. The falls has come into county ownership with very little cost to the taxpayers. The following is a breakdown.
  • Total purchase cost $330,000 (3 acres and the falls)
  • $264,000 Federal Enhancement Funds designated by MnDot District 7 Area Transportation Partnership
  • $50,000 grant from Carl and Verna Schmidt Foundation
  • $16,000 DNR Local Grants Program

The costs have mainly come from our staff time in obtaining grants and doing applications for funding and documenting how the money was spent. There will be future costs of mowing and maintaining the area. These will be on-going.

The Falls is located on Nicollet County Road 41, just west of North Mankato. end

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Gender Equity

It is amazing and sad that one of our highest-level women leaders must succumb to gender equity in the worst form. It sure seems like Governor Pawlenty is taking on the Teflon qualities of a former Republican leader. Any blame for the MnDot fiasco is just sliding off him and onto Commissioner Carol Molnau making her the proverbial fall guy. Or in this case, “fall girl?” If and when her confirmation to the office is not passed, again the Governor will come out smelling like a rose and he can blame the legislature for her departure. end

Budget Debates

The budget debate continues. Our board of commissioners has held six workshop sessions of two hours or more fine-tuning the county budget for 2008. Our county budget for 2007 was $25,397,425. Of that amount, the property tax levy was $12,674,671. It is the property tax levy that the county board agonizes over. Our preliminary levy was set at an almost 10% increase and we have worked hard to lower that and we are not done yet.

It should be noted that the budget includes grants that come to us, pass through dollars, and other revenues such as fees etc. Some of these dollars simply come to us and pass through our books. An explanation follows: because counties exist in a partnership with the state government and indirectly with the federal government, we perform services on their behalf at the local level. Some programs are entirely funded by state and federal dollars that are passed to us and we deliver the services.

It is much the same as acting as a contractor for the state or federal government. There is a structure and expertise at the local level so a system is set up to pay local units of government to do the work of the state or feds. Sometimes these services are mandated, but sometimes they are not. For instance, there are Homeland Security dollars available to counties who choose to access them and make upgrades. Some counties take advantage of the money, others do not have the manpower to do so.

County government is a service industry. Most of what we do involves people performing some kind of service. Examples: probation, public health, land records, zoning etc. One of the big exceptions is roads and highway maintenance. When it comes to roads, there is a product involved. We actually build something that will then be of service to the citizenry. In the area of Public Works, we have inflation and the cost of materials working against us. The costs for buying right of way, gravel, salt/salt mixtures, bituminous heavy equipment and the operation of the equipment and the costs to put all of this together to build or maintain roads keeps increasing every year. This has been the largest area of discussion for our county board during this budget cycle. end