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State legislation has negative affect on Fillmore County

Fri, Jun 6th, 2008
Posted in Government

PRESTON - Social Service Director Thomas Boyd reviewed the concerns the recent legislative session raised for Fillmore County at the June 3 county board meeting. He noted a reduction in grants by 1.8%.

The county receives about $822,000 in grants so there will be a reduction in funding of about $14,500. Chairman Randy Dahl maintained that this is a real reduction and not the reduction of an increase.

Boyd suggested that with the next session of the legislature, there should be a discussion about the relationship between the counties and the state. He questions whether the state sees the county as a partner or a provider of services. Boyd added that demands on his department and the county get higher as the economy worsens. The state dictates what the counties must do, but doesn't provide funding to fulfill those demands.

Legislative changes have ended funding for programs like "Sentence to Serve" and have made it necessary to cut staff and staff hours for the courts, which County Attorney Kelly Wagner admitted causes a slow down in the court system.

Commissioner Duane Bakke warned that there could be a drastic decrease in funding from the state next year. Dahl added that the county is not now accepting new applications for some social service programs. Boyd commented that one of the saving graces for the county over the last couple of years has been a reduction in number of children requiring out of home placement. Bakke questioned whether or not the county should be cutting back on unmandated programs. Boyd agreed with Bakke that there could be big changes from the state next year.

Joint Powers Board Disbands

Commissioner Chuck Amunrud summarized the history of the county's attempt to set up County Based Purchasing (CBP) along with four other counties for their Medical Assistance clients. The SteadFast Health Plan was developed by Olmsted County. Fillmore, Houston, Mower, and Winona Counties were invited by Olmsted into the plan to get sufficient enrollment numbers to spread the risk and share the cost. The big hurdle was to get the state legislature to allow the five county group to present the SteadFast Plan as the only plan for a few years. Amunrud said that the legislature resisted this, so the group decided to get "default" language passed which would allow the plan an advantage for three years to get individuals, who don't designate a specific plan, assigned to the SteadFast Plan. This would have significantly reduced the risk while in the initial set up and early enrollment phase.

Amunrud remarked that both houses of the legislature overwhelmingly backed the "default" language with the sunset period. However, Governor Pawlenty vetoed the legislation with the "default" language stating that the legislation allowed an unfair preference for the SteadFast Plan and does not allow for competition.

Dahl said that the county provides social services using state and federal dollars and that the county administers those dollars. Bakke explained that the SteadFast Plan was intended for clients of the county through social services and would not have been a plan available to the general public. Dahl insisted that it doesn't make sense to have Blue Cross and U-Care in the middle as they just turn around and contract with the county to provide the services. He seemed to suggest it would have been more efficient for the county to have its own plan. The hope was to use the SteadFast Health Plan to bring profits back to the counties to apply those dollars to programs for early prevention and to reduce the need for expensive Emergency Room care.

Amunrud insisted that the "default" language would have increased the number of individuals enrolled in the SteadFast Plan up and reduced the risk for the county group in the beginning. On May 30 the five county Joint Powers Board met with its eight members to decide their next step. The board voted to recommend a disbanding of the group. The vote was six for disbandment, two against. Houston County's Larry Connery and Olmsted County's Mike Podulke cast the two votes against disbandment.

Amunrud added that most of the money Fillmore County invested in the effort will be returned. He said that the joint board will meet once more and that there are still some expenses to take care of. He remarked that he voted for disbandment because of concerns with levy limits and other unknowns in the future combined with the lack of a cushion the "default" language could have allowed. Amunrud was not sure whether the effort would be revived with a different state administration.

The board voted unanimously to affirm the decision of the Joint Powers Board.

County Map

County Coordinator Karen Brown said that Cloud Cartographics, the company that published the recent county map, has apologized for the problems with the map and was eager to work with the county. She said that 7,500 copies of a corrected map could be printed for $4,500. Dahl didn't think that it would be necessary to have that many printed.

Bakke commented that if new maps are printed, it needs to be the responsibility of the commissioners for final approval of the data to be sent in. Brown said that the data layer which wrongly located golf courses, museums and more would be removed and that kind of information would not be put on the new maps.

Amunrud suggested that Brown find out how many maps could be printed for $3,000. Hansen questioned whether the maps already printed with all their errors should be offered to the public anyway. Commissioner Marc Prestby said that the county is not obligated to provide a map.

More information on numbers and cost will be gathered before the board makes a decision.

Debris Grant

Prestby provided new criteria for the debris grant applicants that would include owners of single or duplex rental units that are used for a primary residence. The applicant would be the owner, not the renter. Prestby said that over $348,000 has been dispersed so far which is about half of the funds available. The new criteria was approved. The grant money comes from the state of Minnesota for partial flood debris removal expenses. Applications will be accepted until December 1, 2008, or until the funds are gone. Applicants are to contact Shirl Boelter Auditor/Treasurer or call 507-765-3811 or 507-765-4701.

Other Business

• By consensus the board agreed to set a preliminary figure of 3.5% for a preliminary nonunion salary adjustment increase. The figure is to help department heads when they do their 2009 budget plan. Brown noted that other counties have a varied proposed increase between 2.75% and 3.5%. She said that the CPI has increased 3.9% from April to April. Prestby added that the 3.5% figure is not binding, but is to be used for budgeting purposes.

• Thomas Boyd discussed ways to reduce fuel usage. He offered the possibility of some people working part time out of their home, more communication using equipment and limiting travel, and alternate work schedules requiring less days and/or longer days in the office. Bakke added that it should be looked at whether tax dollars are being saved. Amunrud commented that space is tight here and some of these suggestions could help with limited space. Brown added that these kinds of changes are at the discretion of department heads.

• Contracts for 2009 with the University of Minnesota Extension for local extension position prices was approved. A 3.5% increase was included to cover increases in salary, fringe benefits, travel and inflation. LuAnn Hiniker noted that they have been using web conferencing and flexibility in work hours for some of the staff to reduce fuel usage.

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