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


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