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.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


Recently all county department heads and commissioners met in a two-hour session and reported ways to save dollars as we attempt to continue to deliver services in the same manner, but using fewer dollars. This meeting was a déjà vu experience for me because Nicollet County held the same meeting during the same week in February of 2003. I was chair of the county board that year and I am chair of the county board this year. I am wondering if I am a jinx.
The Nicollet County employees and their supervisors should be congratulated for their efforts to work together as a team to help all of the citizens of the county weather this economic storm. Most of our employees are also citizens of the county and are taxpayers and they realize that citizens today are burdened in a myriad of ways, and paying property taxes is one of the biggies. Many of the ideas presented at the meeting are efforts that can and should be implemented no matter the status of the economy.
To set the stage, please consider the following. By the nature of the beast, counties are administrative arms of the states. And contrary to what some legislative leaders have said about counties, WE DO NOT RAISE TAXES – JUST BECAUSE WE CAN. Counties are set up to carry out the work of the state at the local level. The state mandates the services and the counties do the work or carry out the mandates on the local level. It is planned to be a partnership and it is planned that funding to perform the mandates will come with the mandates. However, far too many times, the full funding does not come or sometimes it does not come at all. Evidently the state of Minnesota does not define “partnership” the same way that most of us do.
EXAMPLE: The state of Minnesota sends offenders housed in prisons for short periods of time (short term offenders) to finish out their prison sentences in local county jails. They pay a pittance (less than $10 a day) to the counties to provide these jail beds when the cost to counties is $60 a day or more. Counties cannot refuse this mandate and guess who picks up the cost? The citizens of Nicollet County or whatever county is housing these short-term offenders. Meanwhile, state leaders can make headlines by saying they are not raising taxes. The truth is that they are raising taxes, but they are doing it by going through the back door and mandating that their “partners” do the actual levying action.
County services are largely services that require people. Jails, law enforcement, permits, health care, probation, licenses, record keeping, plowing snow, - all of those and other tasks take people to do the work and these people must be paid a living wage. It may be interesting for the taxpayers to know that the salary for one hour of all Nicollet County employees adds up to an expenditure of $4,625. The county could decrease spending by over $480,000 annually if each employee took one day off per month without pay. Nicollet County employees are aware of this and some have suggested this policy be taken. Employees would rather all tighten their belts some to avoid lay-offs.
The meeting resulted in three pages of suggestions on ways to cut costs. They range from elimination of the County Line newsletter to eliminating snow plowing on weekends. This is the start of an effort that will be a number one priority for employees, department heads, and commissioners for this year and years to come. end


The Nicollet County board of commissioners approved the bid of Wells Fargo Brokerage Services, LLC in a bond refunding measure. The process meant paying off bonds originally sold in 1999 as part of the building program necessitated from the 1998 tornado. The new sale means the county is paying a true interest rate of 2.1071% and according to Bridgette Kennedy, Auditor/Treasurer, this procedure means a projected savings of $96,000 to the county. end

Friday, February 13, 2009


It is an absolute insult to responsible, tax paying citizens of the county. First we have individuals who commit crimes, only to cause enforcement actions by our law enforcement employees, and subsequently the attorneys, the court system, and then probation. To top it all off, once these culprits are in our jails, the citizens must pay for medical and dental expenses. At a recent board meeting, a bill for $3,315 was approved. This one was minor compared to previous bills that come through for various prisoners. It is not uncommon to have expenses of five to ten to twenty thousand for prisoners. The county officials always attempt to collect from the prisoner’s private insurance which in most cases is non-existent. In fact, it has been said that some of these individuals attempt to become incarcerated just to have health or dental problems taken care of, courtesy of the taxpayer. end


Some of the parts of the jobs of county workers are not readily known by the public in general. An example is that this past week, I used approximately a half hour to forty five minutes of time from various employees in the assessor’s office. What for? Just so we could file our income tax returns for 2008. That may seem like a strange situation, but for farm returns we needed to know the amount of taxes we paid on a certain portion of our tillable land. That information is not readily available from our parcel statement when the parcel also includes a house, a barn, bins etc. As a result, the folks in our assessor’s office answer many questions for land owners during this time of the year. Let’s see – if there are 900 or more farmers in Nicollet County and each one uses 30 minutes of time from the assessor’s office that is 450 hours or eleven plus weeks of staff time. Then add to that, questions from non-farm citizens. Get the picture. These folks are busy people. end