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Officials talk of state and local partnership

Fri, Jan 2nd, 2009
Posted in Government

PRESTON - Partnership, opportunities, and reform were some of the common themes banded about during a two hour meeting between the Fillmore County Board and area legislators on Tuesday, December 30, in Preston.

With a projected $4.6 billion state deficit as a backdrop, Senator Sharon Erickson Ropes, Senator Dan Sparks and Representative-elect Greg Davids down played the idea of any increases in state funding for programs and concentrated more on how they could make things easier for county government. Rep. Jeanne Poppe was unable to attend the meeting due to an illness in the family. The 2009 Minnesota Legislature re-convenes in St. Paul on Tuesday, January 6.

Commissioners and county department heads, for their part, emphasized the need to streamline rules and regulations and the need to avoid shifts, where programs are transferred from state to county government. And they came to the meeting with a long list of ideas on what legislators can be doing to help country government deliver services.

Law Enforcement

• Sheriff Daryl Jensen is a strong advocate for Sentence to Serve, a program that allows offenders to work off their court ordered fines. Jensen emphasized that much of the work assists the DNR through trails, fisheries, forestry and parks. He says they were critical in helping during the flooding of 2007.

Jensen noted that funding was cut in 2007 but the county was able to find alternative funds to match the county's $37,000. Fillmore County is one of five counties out of 87 whose funding was sunsetted. Consequently, the program must seek funding renewal every two years.

• In addition, Jensen told legislators that the state's radio communication radio program in Fillmore County will probably require more infrastructure due to the terrain. Jensen said that a fully operable system may need more than four towers and additional state funding.

Social Services

Social Services Director Tom Boyd said that delivery of services is a partnership between the county and state and called for streamlining rules and regulations. He also warned about cost shifts in programs.

• The state requires that the county pay a portion of the cost for clients under the age of 65 in nursing homes and clients in group homes. Boyd calls this a direct property tax cost and county residents should be told that from the state. The cost to Fillmore County in 2007 was $84,393.

• Gail Bunge of Social Services also called for streamlining eligibility rules for health care, noting that there are 26 program eligibility criteria for Medical Assistance alone. Holding up a two-sided matrix showing programs and income requirements, Bunge said that there are cases where a family may have different family members qualify for different programs.

Boyd said that in Fillmore County there are more than 400 Food Stamp cases today compared with 260 in 2002. Given the economic situation, he expects a greater demand for county social services.

Real Estate Taxes

• County Assessor Cindy Blagsvedt talked to the legislators about public concerns about the Green Acres law, where non-productive land is valued at a higher rate.

Sen. Ropes said that changes to the law that were made in 2008 were recommended by the Office of the Legislative Auditor who had noticed discrepancies in how Green Acres were administered in the past. She said the measure was added to legislation at the last minute and never went through the Ag Committee which she is a member of. Both Ropes and Davids vowed to sponsor bills to have the law repealed.

• Blagsvedt also raised concerns about commercial property taxes for small town businesses. She recommended enacting legislation to end funding state programs through local property tax, which would help small town commercial entities survive.

Public Health

Public Health Director Sharon Serfling informed legislators about cuts in funding for the free Minnesota Vaccines for Children program. In the past Amish adults have been immunized through this program and the county has made great strides in getting this sector of the population to get immunized, especially for polio and tetanus. She recommended restoring funding to its previous levels.

Serfling also recommended providing adequate funding for Universal Home Visits to assure the physical and mental health of new mothers and babies.

Election Laws

County Auditor/Treasurer Shirl Boelter told legislatures that Minnesota did a good job with the elections and subsequent recount, but county auditors will be calling for changes to rules to make the process even smoother. She said that the 87 county auditors and the secretary of state will look for a better way of dealing with absentee ballots, a problem noted in the Franken-Coleman recount.

Other Issues

• John Martin, Solid Waste: the state has done a good job dealing with air and water quality issues but still needs to do better on dealing with hazardous, electrical and solid waste. Revenues from recyclables has gone down, as a consequence state funding is necessary to maintain the same level of services.

• Duane Bakke, Library Funding: Fillmore County supports the repeal of maintenance of effort requirements related to libraries, calling for a new model that would change the relationship between state and local government funding for libraries. Bakke called library funding on "auto pilot" as future funding is predicated on previous funding. He believed this was unfair, especially when the county is dealing with an economic downturn.

• Donna Rasmussen, SWCD: Encouraged legislators to support the Governor's Clean Water Council's recommendations for the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment. These are also supported by the Association of Minnesota Counties, calling on $80 million for clean water concerns.

• John Grindeland, Highway: Fillmore County supports the primary enforcement of a universal safety seat belt use law. Grindeland noted that there have been 13 traffic related deaths in Fillmore County this year, compared to a norm of one to three per year.

• Deb Teske, Emergency Management/Veterans: Teske called for continued funding of veterans programs. She also called for replenishing the disaster fund used by state Homeland Security to respond to emergencies. Teske said that fund had been used and not replenished.

Commissioner Chuck Amunrud called the meeting with legislators a "good conversation" and called for a "good debate" in the upcoming legislature in 2009.

"The budget problem creates opportunities, and makes reform a possibility," Amunrud said.

Picking up on this same theme, Sen. Dan Sparks seemed to be speaking for all three legislators when he said that the situation calls for, "Not more government, not less government, but better government."

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