Minnesota Rep. Greg Davids and Senator Jeremy Miller listened to Fillmore County department heads describe concerns that they feel are important to address in the upcoming legislative session.
Association of Minnesota Counties (AMC) government relations manager Matt Hilgart provided a ranking from 11 southeast Minnesota counties (district IX). The number one legislative priority is comprehensive transportation funding package, second is the provider tax, and third is mental health services/children’s residential treatment.
Statewide, the same three issues ranked one, two, and three; transportation number one, mental health second, and provider tax third.
Highway Engineer Ron Gregg said 49 bridge structures are currently on the replacement priority list (estimate cost $10.8 million). Local bridge bonding topped his list. Second is long term sustainable funding dedicated to the Highway User Tax Distribution Fund. He suggested a possible revenue source could be a gas tax.
Jessica Erickson, director of nursing, encouraged a replenishing of the Local Public Health Grant to its former levels. Funding cuts have reduced the ability of health departments to carry out mandated public health functions. She also expressed the importance of maintaining the state’s health care “provider tax.” This is a 2% tax on gross revenue of providers. This tax supplies about 80% of the dollars for the Health Care Access Fund, a revenue source for Medical Assistance. The tax will sunset in 2020 unless legislators act to repeal the sunset provision.
Davids said this tax has been a problem for him; he sees it as a tax on the sick or injured. If it goes away, there will be funding from somewhere else. An AMC representative said the tax raises about $6 million per year; how do you plug that hole if it goes away? County Coordinator Bobbie Vickerman added how do we make sure we can provide the services and where do the dollars come from?
Erickson listed other funding needs for essential programs. She supported a new waiver for mental and behavioral health needs to give families and people with disabilities more options for services and opportunities to participate in their communities.
Social Services Director Kevin Olson asked for additional funding to improve the current Minnesota Eligibility Technology System to make it fully functional and efficient. Use of the system is in its sixth year and it is still cumbersome and slow. Also, the mental health system needs more “beds” for children and adults who need a forever home, instead of short, expensive placements.
Vickerman thanked legislators for 2017 action to stabilize and add funding to County Program Aid.
Miller reported that he has received complaints about increased speed limits from 55 to 60 mph on some state roads. He suggested complaints be sent via email so they can be forwarded to MnDOT. Sheriff elect John DeGeorge said he doesn’t know if input was sought from the department about the Highway 43 speed limit. He said he hoped they will consider consulting us in the future. Commissioner Randy Dahl said he is not in support of the increase to 60 mph on Highway 43 due to the deficiencies of the highway, including missing guard rails. North of Choice the highway is steep with blind hills and there can be a lot of farm equipment on the road.
DeGeorge said they hope to identify options available for the county jail, which he suggested could be on the verge of being shut down in coming years.
Heidi Jones, auditor/treasurer elect, pointed to the need for a dedicated funding source for election technology upgrades. The processing of absentee ballots when the voter comes to the county office could be more efficient if these ballots could be processed and run through a tabulator in front of the voter. Jones asked for a more equitable distribution of mortgage registration and deed taxes. The service is provided by the county and the county gets 2.3% and 3.3% of the proceeds respectively. The rest goes to the state.
Andrew Hatzenbihler, solid waste, said the county supports improvements to maximize e-waste recycling and payments to reimburse the county. There are no programs for the county to recoup costs related to disposal.
Marla Stanton, assistant county attorney, explained that things have become more expensive; therefore, there is a need to shift the threshold up on the theft value which triggers a felony charge. The county recommends the theft values be raised in each category. Also, an exception to the medical privilege statute is requested to get access to blood tests or medical evidence in a criminal case where there is a death or substantial bodily injury. Updates need to be made to the statute concerning obscene or harassing telephone calls to include other forms of modern communication. Also, theft should include modern means of financial theft: identity theft or theft of personal information.
Zoning Administrator Cristal Adkins asked for additional funding for enforcement of MPCA rules for subsurface treatment systems, water protection, and wells. Additional funding should be directed to the local level to insure compliance. Commissioner Duane Bakke added we don’t get any help from MPCA and are spending county time and money to keep compliance efforts moving forward.
Jason Marquardt, veterans service officer, supported revision to the Property Tax Value Exclusion to support the one time sale of a homestead and allow the spouse of an eligible deceased veteran to transfer the property tax exclusion to a property one time.
Davids noted that Minnesota is the only state with a house and senate being led by different parties (DFL house, GOP senate, and DFL governor). They will be going into session with a $1.5 billion surplus. Miller said broadband is a priority for him. Both legislators thanked the commissioners and department heads for their input on legislative priorities.
Other business in brief
• Vickerman explained adjustments that have been made to department budgets due to employee health care choices. A savings total of $47,905 will be added to the General Revenue Fund.
A resolution approving the final 2019 levy in the amount of $10,819,093 was approved. This represents a 3.49% increase over 2018. A resolution approving the 2019 budget in the amount of $27,931,194 was approved.
• Bakke announced that the MPCA commissioner denied the (general) feedlot permit for the Catalpa project. John Linc Stine recommended a study of nitrate contaminated waters in the sensitive karst region in southeast Minnesota.
• The board was notified of the acquisition of approximately 584 acres in the City of Rushford Village for the DNR. Assistant Attorney Stanton explained the conveyance of a Quit Claim Deed reserves the right of way easement to Fillmore County. It cleans up the title and gets a permanent easement for the county.
City of Rushford Village Mayor Gordon Johnson noted about 2,300 acres in the Village are owned by the state, with a total value of $7.8 million. He said more land going to the state presents a hardship for the Village. There is the loss of possible building sites and the loss of some living quarters. Johnson added there are not enough officers in the DNR to supervise people who come into the area. More control is needed. Dahl admitted the loss of buildable property and the value of houses is a concern. He has had calls from people on both sides of the issue. Dahl agreed the biggest concern is the lack of DNR personnel. The state doesn’t provide enough funding to manage the land it is acquiring. Jamie Edwards, DNR, said she would pass on these concerns.
• Sheriff elect DeGeorge laid out specific goals for 2019. He noted his salary request is in the budget for 2019 ($106,000 which includes $6,000 for emergency management).
• Auditor/Treasurer elect Jones compared her 2019 responsibilities with nearby counties. Her salary request for 2019 was $80,000.
• The purchase of three pieces of equipment requested by the highway department was approved (a 2019 6130M John Deere with trade for $48,000, a 102-inch offset 3-point hitch Flail Mower at a cost of $33,063, and a 2019 Ford F-150 ext cab 4×4 at a cost of $28,234.92). Approval was given for the purchase of shop equipment: an air conditioning recycler at a cost of $2,795.65 and diagnostic tools, software, USB link, truck adapter, and updates at a cost of $2,704.05.
• Numerous agreements and contracts for social services and public health for 2019 were approved.
• Most annual appropriations for 2019 were approved at last year’s levels. SELCO had an increase to $233,809. Chairman Mitch Lentz suggested some of those requesting appropriations should be self-sufficient by now, voting against the motion.
• Approval was given for the coordinator to develop an RFP for an official bank. It will be reviewed by the board before advertisement.
• Approval was given for a payment of $5,100 to Government Management Group for the preparation of the county’s 2017 Central Services Cost Allocation Plan.