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2013 Hennepin County Budget Calls for 1.2-Percent Increase

“The county continues to fund what is essential, but there is less flexibility. We can cut back only so far before services residents have come to expect can no longer be provided at the same level year after year."

The following was released by Hennepin County:

Hennepin County Administrator Richard P. Johnson proposed yesterday to the Board of Commissioners a 2013 budget of $1.75 billion – 1.2-percent more than the 2012 budget – and a .93-percent increase in the net property tax levy.

The operating portion of the proposed budget is $1.4 billion – 1.8-percent more than last year; and the proposed capital budget is $179.5 million – 8.4-percent lower than last year.

“A continuing theme in our budget the last several years has been difficult times in government funding, with challenges that include the nation’s economic downturn, uncertain funding from the state and federal governments, an aging infrastructure and growing needs for county services that every year are more costly to provide,” said Johnson in a letter addressed to the board. “Yet throughout these times, the county has remained financially stable – maintaining our triple-A credit rating while trimming spending and still providing excellent service at the lowest possible cost.”

Johnson said economic pressures nationally and locally are expected to continue for 2013 and beyond, including a projected $1.1-billion state shortfall, and $600 billion in federal spending cuts. Johnson said those projections create a “fiscal cliff” that causes uncertainty for state and local governments, which are sure to feel the impact.

“The county continues to fund what is essential, but there is less flexibility,” said Johnson. “We can cut back only so far before services residents have come to expect can no longer be provided at the same level year after year. 

“Staffing and funding reductions have been difficult for an organization that takes pride in its reputation for outstanding public service,” said Johnson. “Nevertheless, the county is a resilient organization and we have adapted – pursuing innovation, partnerships and continuous improvement that are vital to our bottom line and, most importantly, to our residents.”

Johnson said one of the challenges the county faces is the aging of the Baby Boomer generation. People age 65 and older now make up 11 percent of our county population. By 2035, that number is expected to be 20 percent. More than half the county’s own workforce are Baby Boomers – many retiring over the next few years. An aging population will need more county health and social services.

The ethnic diversity of the county is also in flux, with decreases in the white population and increases in Latino, Asian and mixed-race populations. This will bring into sharp contrast the needs of an increasingly diverse young generation and a largely older white population.

Also driving change for the county is the rapid advance of technology, along with public expectations for convenient and accessible online service. The library saw a 245-percent increase in the use of eBooks and other downloadable content from 2010 to 2011. The county is revamping its website to provide better access and more online transactions for the nearly 300,000 visitors who visit the site each month.

Johnson said the county must respond to change by transforming its organizational culture to preserve the value of services but streamline work and eliminate unnecessary rules and work steps to provide real savings.

Johnson said the county will pursue more relationships with other public jurisdictions, nonprofits and businesses to leverage and coordinate resources. One example is the merger of Dakota and Scott county forensic services with the Hennepin County Medical Examiner to create a regional center of forensic excellence.

Johnson noted that economic pressures on the county for costs for services reflect unemployment, home foreclosures and plummeting property values. “This has created a paradox of rising needs for county services when resources have been dwindling,” said Johnson.

Cash assistance payments have grown by 10 percent; food support cases have increased by 69 percent; monthly calls to Child Protection are up 28 percent; and the number of people needing assistance has increased. The cost of uncompensated care at Hennepin County Medical Center and its clinics continues to grow (uncompensated outpatient cases increased 23,000 over last year), and further cuts are expected to add an additional $4 million to HCMC’s uncompensated care costs in 2013 – an increase of 20 percent.

Johnson highlighted the county’s significant current projects – the new Lowry Avenue Bridge; the Interchange transportation hub; new construction for libraries in Brooklyn Park, Excelsior and Minneapolis; and continuing progress on the Southwest Light Rail transit line and Bottineau Transitway. An Accountable Care Organization will improve health care and reduce costs by providing patients the right care at the right time.

Johnson concluded by thanking employees. “Our employees are our most valuable resource – I want to thank them for what they do every day to ensure the quality of life we have come to expect in Hennepin County.”

Look for the entire text of the speech at www.hennepin.us.

The board will host a series of public hearings on the proposed 2013 budget beginning Wednesday, Oct. 10, at 9 a.m. in the County Board Room of the Hennepin County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis. For a complete list of the budget hearings, go to www.hennepin.us/hcbudget.

The board will conduct an official public meeting – called the truth-in-taxation hearing – to gather public comment about the proposed budget and levies on Tuesday, Nov. 27, at 6 p.m., also in the County Board Room. The board will approve the budget and levy on Tuesday, Dec. 11, beginning at 1:30 p.m. All the meetings can be viewed:

·       Live on Metro Cable Network/Channel 6, with replay on Fridays at 8 p.m.

·       On the Hennepin County website at www.hennepin.us/boardmeetings.

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