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.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

THEY CALL THIS MANDATE RELIEF?

In this year's contentious legislative session, our elected state officials assured local units of government (LGU's) that they were aware of our plight in these hard economic times. We were requested to submit suggestions for ways to relieve local expenses stemming from state mandates. The biggest elephant in the room regarding mandates is the Truth In Taxation notices and hearing that are required to be held every year.

The idea behind this 20 plus year old mandate is valid and noble i.e. citizens should have the opportunity to provide input in the budgeting processes of local units of government. The birth of the idea then led to the death of common sense and meaningful process. The law demands that LGU's hold truth in taxation meetings during the first week of December. Since LGU's must set their levies before the end of the year, this time frame leaves little opportunity for meaningful citizen input (if provided) to be included in the budgets. Yes, small changes in the following year's budget can be made; but any idea of doing innovative, outside the box, macro economic changes that might provide significant reforms in budgeting or delivering programs are about as useless as last summer's day lilies.

Being frustrated with this mandate, but also being determined to make this lemon into lemonade, several years ago the Nicollet County Board of Commissioners adopted a process which meets the intent of the law and also reluctantly follows the mandate. (I say reluctantly, because sending the notices and holding the final meeting are costly - over $30,000. When only five or six people come to the meeting, it comes to about $5,000 each - good grief- Minnesota Legislators! What were you thinking?) At that time, we suggested to our legislative representatives that they modify the mandate and follow the process we use every year. WE WANT PUBLIC INPUT and we solicit it by holding open meetings to prepare our budget for the next year. At least five public meetings (this year many more) are held from June to December. We accomplish the same thing that is mandated by the Truth In Taxation law, but it costs the taxpayers NOTHING, ZILCH, NADA. Do we ever get any citizens to come and visit with us about budgets? Rarely. So the result is the same, but our method saves valuable taxpayer dollars.

This year, some changes to the Truth in Taxation law were made in the guise of "mandate relief".This relief includes waiving the requirement of holding a public hearing and noticing same in our official publication. However, the most costly part of the whole deal, the mailing of notices to every parcel owner is still required. These notices will indicate the time and place of the regularly scheduled meeting when the final levy will be set. And, the meeting must be held after 6 pm. How do YOU spell relief? Counties would certainly not spell it like this. end

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