County Meets With Lawmakers Ahead Of Session

County Meets With Lawmakers Ahead Of Session Click to Enlarge Photo: Stearns County

(KNSI) - With the Minnesota State Legislature reconvening in just a few weeks, Stearns County officials met with state lawmakers to discuss topics the county would like to see addressed in the upcoming session.

Stearns County says the following issues are critical to County government in 2018.

• Adequately fund road and bridge projects. Stearns County’s unmet transportation needs are over $6,000,000 annually.

• Fund the Local Road Wetland Replacement Program to cover costs of mitigating or

replacing affected wetlands. Local road projects can be delayed without adequate funding.

• Support expansion of I-94 to St. Cloud and Highway 23 to 4-lanes between Richmond and

Paynesville and New London and Paynesville.

• Address the growing crisis in providing adequate and affordable mental health services. Incent the creation of community based facilities and creative programs and alter state laws to allow for sharing of medical records. There is an increased burden to the property tax payer because of a lack of state funding, shifts in costs to counties, a lack of local facilities to provide care, and the incarceration of the mentally ill.

• Amend the child protection funding requirements and remove the 20 percent withholding. The substantial growth in child protection cases has created significant pressure to county child protection systems. Stearns County has experienced a 50 percent increase in child maltreatment assessments since 2014.

• Maintain County Program Aid Funding to offset the cost of mandates and provide property tax relief. Counties are required to act on the state’s behalf to administer health and human services programs, supervise most of the state’s felons, play a major role in solid waste management and feedlot regulation, administer the property tax system and collect property taxes on behalf of the state and all local governments, and provide facilities for the state’s court system. In Stearns County, the percentage of intergovernmental revenues is trending down while the property tax levy is supporting more of the budget than ever before.

• Continue to fund grants to improve broadband in rural Minnesota. Internet access and

reliability are key to economic growth and development in rural areas.

• Support a uniform, statewide process to allow individual counties to initiate and determine the selection of county row officers, such as the auditor, treasurer and recorder.

• Create a method for regular review of the cost of mandates on county governments, such as sun setting. Sun setting all county mandates will allow each to be reviewed to determine if the mandate should continue, be amended, or be eliminated.

• Increase the Driver’s License Agent Fee for additional issuance costs associated with REAL ID. In order to meet the requirements of REAL ID, new protocols have to be implemented that include training, yearly background checks for driver’s license agents and more extensive identification verification of applicants. Local driver’s license agents will have to increase staffing to meet the demands.

• Reimburse Counties for the additional workload shifted to them to transfer vehicle titles. The new Minnesota Licensing and Registration System (MNLARS) was brought online in July. Numerous problems have plagued the system. Longer transaction times (if the transactions have been able to be processed at all) have resulted in long waits for customers. Additional hours have been necessary to do the back office tasks resulting in considerable overtime for staff or reduced hours for the public. The new system shifted the workload of entering the data from state staff to local deputy registrars.

Lawmakers in attendance were Representatives Jeff Howe, Tama Theis, Paul Anderson and Jim Knoblach, and Senator Jerry Relph.

The 2018 legislative session begins February 20th.