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Looking at the State of Hennepin County

County Board Chair Mike Opat delivered the 2012 address today in Plymouth.

Hennepin County Board Chair Mike Opat gave the State of the County address today at the  in Plymouth. The TwinWest Chamber of Commerce hosted the event.

A State of the County address hasn't been given since 2009. The reason?

"There have been no speeches because given the state of the economy and federal and state budgets there wasn’t much I could say that was interesting enough to warrant an event like this," Opat said. "Like the rest of public-sector America…we have been hunkered down and focused on the basics."

During his speech, Opat touched on changes to several areas of the County, that were also highlighted in a county press release:

Budget/Finances

"The State of Hennepin County is one of flat budgets and property tax levies," Opat said.

The county organization is shrinking despite the county taking over the Minneapolis Library system and having more people to serve.

"From the recent Census, we know that Hennepin County is home to 1.15 million people—that’s a higher population than eight states," Opat said. "The county is a $1.6 billion-dollar enterprise, without including the $760 million Medical Center.  We’re the largest local unit of government in the state."

Public Works & Transportation/Transit

"We will spend $120 million on public works in 2012 and we have more than 400 employees dedicated to it," Opat said. "Our Transportation team maintains more than 2,000 lane-miles of roads and 145 bridges."

In 2011, the County Board passed the 2030 Comprehensive Transportation Plan and adopted a new philosophy for roads that looks beyond simply providing the fastest way to get from one place to another.

"As a result of the Comprehensive Plan, in future budgets and construction, you will see more attention paid to the inner ring county roads and to how they look and feel," Opat said.

Opat touted that Hennepin County has been the state and region’s leader in advocating for Light Rail Transit and the future of a great transit system including the Southwest and Bottineau LRT lines. The bonding bill for the Southwest LRT was left behind this legislative session, but still ahs a 2015 construction start timeline while the Bottineau LRT line, which would serve the northern suburbs and Minneapolis continues to "gained momentum."

The Interchange project, which is where all four LRT lines converge, has a construction start time of the end of this year and opening time of 2014.

Waste management services

The County Board passed the Solid Waste Master Plan in April that will require all cities receiving grant funding to implement a single-sort recycling. It will also be part of diverting compostable food waste from the trash can and maximize use of the downtown garbage burner to process more waste and generate more energy.

Public safety

With 100 fewer county-funded public safety positions than two years ago, efficiency and resourcefulness has been a big part of decision making.

The close of the work release building in Plymouth has created a new program in which more offenders serve their sentences at home in their neighborhoods wearing ankle bracelets tracking devices, which require careful monitoring, but saves the county $6 million annually. With the same philosophy for juveniles, another $6 million has been saved to keep them monitored at home.

Also, as many know, the new 911 Communications building is a $33 million project being built in Plymouth, as the current Golden Valley facility has not been

Healthcare

In 2011, the County created an Accountable Care Organization, or A.C.O., to control the costs of healthcare for the very poor who are not disabled and who do not have children. 

"Whatever you may think about Obamacare or other healthcare initiatives there is simply no escaping that we must all re-examine how we think about healthcare,” Opat said.

Libraries

The county will continue to invest in first-class library services – no significant cuts are planned. Opat also highlighted the Hennepin County Ballpark Fund, which has funded additional hours that the libraries are open and provided $9 million in grants for youth and amateur sports.

Human services

“Human services are core functions for Hennepin County,” said Opat. “We are stressed normally, but the Great Recession made for greater stress and suffering for the poorest among us. Foreclosures, unemployment and under-employment have brought economic pain to thousands.”

County food assistance cases have grown from 120,000 in 2007 to 179,000 last year – a 50-percent jump; shelter beds are full; and state budget cuts have severely hampered nonprofits. In the midst of this, the county has seen significant changes, including decentralizing staff and implementing ROWE – Results-Only Work Environment – which enables staff to work off-site or from home and has already increased worker productivity.

Service centers

The county is reevaluating the future of its six service centers and 70 percent of services are done on behalf of the state. Centers are currently operating at a loss requiring the use of property-tax dollars, which is not sustainable. The county closed the Eden Prairie center in January and has established a study group to consider more options.

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