County department heads share priorities with legislators


Minnesota legislators Rep. Greg Davids and Sen. Jeremy Miller hear input from Fillmore County's commissioners on Dec. 18. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFFCOUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP
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GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY
Bluff Country Newspaper Group

Fillmore County commissioners and department heads welcomed Sen. Jeremy Miller and Rep. Greg Davids to the county boardroom on Tuesday morning, Dec. 18, to hear the county’s 2019 legislative priorities.

First, County Coordinator Bobbie Vickerman thanked the legislators for their efforts in increasing county program aid (CPA), pointing out the item on the legislative priorities agenda.

“Fillmore County appreciates the legislative action from 2017 to stabilize and add dollars to the CPA program,” Vickerman said. “We would appreciate continued support for this program as counties are the local administrative arm of state government.”

She outlined that the county is working with broadband internet providers to expand the infrastructure for rural residents who would like to work from home or whose children need broadband access to complete homework.

The third item on her portion of the agenda encompassed “sustainability and new legislation,” or more plainly, the state institutes unfunded mandates, or requirements for which it does not make financial allowances. She stated these mandates put pressure on the county’s funding because it is expected to pick up the tab.

The fourth item she brought to their attention was the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) acquisition of land and maintenance and monitoring of the land it acquires, as the county’s experiences with the DNR’s land management haven’t been as favorable as hoped.

Bridges and highways

Highway Engineer Ron Gregg shared with the legislators that bridge bonding has made possible repairs to numerous bridges within the county, but currently, there are 49 structures on the replacement priority list that total $10.8 million.

He requested that the state continue to provide transportation revenue through general and trunk highway bonding programs for local bridges, the local road improvement program (LRIP) and the Transportation Alternatives Program, also known as Safe Routes to School.

Additionally, the county “supports a dedication of all sales tax revenue generated by the sale of auto parts for transportation purposed through the Highway User Tax Distribution Fund (HUTDF).”

Social services

Social Services Manager Kevin Olson took his turn addressing Davids and Miller, citing the items listed for his department that include repairing and updating the Minnesota Eligibility Technology System (METS) that is used to manage Medical Assistance (MA) — particularly being able to add a baby to a family’s rolls without hours of work invested to do so.

He also noted concerns about removing the county from the Substance Abuse Disorder Reform (SUD) program’s requirement that a contribution be given to the Consolidated Chemical Dependency Fund if the county no longer participates in SUD.

Also, finding homes for children and adults in need of more permanent mental health placement may end in the placement of individuals in juvenile detention centers and other unsuitable accommodations that may adversely affect their mental health.

He also noted a call to meet the county’s needs in relation to the mobile crisis grants.

Olson’s note stated, “There is a shortage of funding for this service, and the Department of Human Services (DHS) has issued guidelines indicating that counties are responsible for any shortages in funding.”

Public health

County Public Health Director Jessica Erickson asked that the local public health grant that has funded the public health department be brought back to its former levels.

She put in her request that “Fillmore County supports replenishing the Local Public Health Grant to former levels, as it is the main investment that the state has in our public health system…the funding cuts have reduced the capacity of local health departments to carry out mandated public health functions.”

Furthermore, she registered a need for the continuation of the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) to aid in “prevention of chronic illness by addressing nutrition physical activity and tobacco use.”

She noted a need for increased and ongoing funding for home visits, Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

The final item she put in front of Miller and Davids was that the legislature would do well to “support a new waiver for mental and behavioral health needs to give families and people with disabilities more options for home-and community-based services and increased opportunities to integrate and participate in their communities.”

Sheriff-elect

Sheriff-elect John DeGeorge stood to speak for himself only — not in place of current sheriff Tom Kaase — and outlined that the county is in the process of installing courthouse security measures. He also noted funding is necessary for mandated and essential trainings, and the county has some noticeable emergency radio dead zones in the ARMER 800-megahertz radio system that have proven troublesome. DeGeorge stated the county is in need of maintenance and updating funds to connect emergency responders to one another.

County attorney

Assistant County Attorney Marla Stanton shared that her department would like the legislature to ease restrictions on medical privilege rules that prevent prosecutors from obtaining copies of medical records or diagnostic tests that could help prove a search warrant is needed. She also noted it would be useful to be able to use those medical records as evidence in a criminal prosecution “even though the blood test and/or medical information may show a person was under the influence prior to an accident or crime. Fillmore County requests an exception to the medical privilege statute so as to allow the prosecution to obtain copies…the medical privilege would remain in place for less serious crimes.”

Veterans services

Among the other departments bringing their concerns to the legislators was the veterans service office, represented by Veterans Service Officer Jason Marquardt. He asked for revisions to the current property tax value exclusion to “recognize the contributions of surviving spouses, support the one-time sale of the homestead, and allow for the spouse of an eligible deceased veteran to transfer the property tax exclusion to a property of equal or lesser value one time.”

With the impending construction of the state veterans’ home in Preston, Marquardt also put in his department’s request for adequate funding to properly staff the home.

Other requests

Vickerman took another turn speaking to the legislators, drawing on her year-long experience as the county’s interim auditor-treasurer. She requested they consider dedicating funding to continue upgrading counties’ election technology and to eliminate the need for sample ballots to be published in a newspaper prior to an election because the ballots are already published on the county’s website. She also asked that they work to allow counties to administer and process in-person absentee ballots without the work of unsealing several envelopes to get to the person’s ballot that could be just as easily counted minus the envelopes and put through a vote tabulator with the person present.

Watershed management planning is in need of long-term base funding, as the Root River One Watershed, One Plan has been completed and approved. The county needs the financial means with which to carry out the management it laid out in the plan, and the legislature is the entity that can secure that funding.

In administrative matters, the county has interest in “current legislation that would allow counties to recover costs related to tax forfeiture and delinquencies through fee administration or through the sale of the property,” as “revenues received from property auctions should continue to first offset the county costs of mitigating and/or managing the safety, building or property issues which can be excessive.”

Also, the county seeks an adjustment to the allotted timeframe for property tax payments to arrive at the courthouse because often, taxpayers post their payments a few days before with the expectation that the postmark will be honored upon arrival at the courthouse, but that’s not so. The county is petitioning to be allowed to accept payments within three days of the due date without penalties being incurred.

At the forum’s close, the commissioners thanked Miller and Davids for attending to hear what Fillmore County considers its most important statements, and the legislators returned the thanks to the commissioners and department heads for their input.