St. Louis County administrator's view: County well-positioned for an efficient 2014It’s always a challenge to make predictions for the coming year, but I look forward to 2014 as a positive year for St. Louis County. I say this with confidence based on the strong record of serving residents and fiscal responsibility that our County Board consistently has demonstrated.
By: Kevin Z. Gray, for the News Tribune
It’s always a challenge to make predictions for the coming year, but I look forward to 2014 as a positive year for St. Louis County. I say this with confidence based on the strong record of serving residents and fiscal responsibility that our County Board consistently has demonstrated.
As always, we will continue to be even smarter and more efficient with taxpayers’ money. One example championed by our Board of Commissioners is that we will be providing assessment services to more local units of government than ever in 2014 — and at no cost to those cities and townships, resulting in significant cost savings for them, an estimated $2.5 million. This dramatic increase in workload certainly will challenge our Assessor’s Office team. However, our taxpayers will benefit as we work to make assessments uniform and affordable and help to ensure no one is expected to pay more than their fair share.
We see great opportunity in targeted investments in Public Health and Human Services. New programs initiated by our County Board will help ensure the right people get public assistance while recognizing and treating the underlying causes that drive people to need assistance.
For Public Works, there’s no slowing down. After wrapping up the largest road-construction season ever in 2013, plans are in place already to rebuild Highland Street connecting West Duluth and Hermantown beginning in the spring. We will finish the last of our flood-recovery projects and at the same time complete many other projects to maintain and improve our 3,000 miles of paved and gravel roads and bridges.
To address the ongoing challenge of jail overcrowding, the sheriff’s and attorney’s offices will continue to partner with Arrowhead Regional Corrections and the courts. We’re doing this through intensive field supervision and other new strategies as alternatives to incarceration.
We are looking forward to the upcoming legislative session. During this bonding-year session, our top two requests focus on public safety. One request is for $4 million to improve the Northeast Regional Corrections Center, or NERCC, a “work farm” that teaches inmates valuable life skills and that has the lowest recidivism rate of any correctional facility in the state. And the other request is for $837,000 for the St. Louis County Volunteer Rescue Squad to remodel and upgrade buildings in Virginia and Pike Lake, enabling this dedicated team of volunteers to serve our citizens even better. We believe lawmakers will look favorably on the regional importance of both requests.
In addition, we will continue the work started last month to renovate the Government Services Center in Duluth. This $21 million project, being built by local union labor, will consolidate and improve access to services for our residents in a centralized location. Additionally, the county will see long-term savings in rent as well as in operating costs thanks to energy-efficient upgrades.
Also on the horizon, the new Ordinance 61, dealing with updated rules for septic systems, will come before the County Board by February. Crafting the proposed updates has been in the works for years and was done with considerable input from residents and industry experts to comply with state law while incorporating local considerations.
We look forward to welcoming a new commissioner to our board in January with the special election to fill the 2nd District seat of Steve O’Neil. Commissioner Angie Miller has done a remarkable job in the interim, and I know I speak for all commissioners when I publicly thank her for her service through this difficult time.
As a new year dawns, we are optimistic about the positive signs of growth in our local economy. This bodes well for the county and for all of us as taxpayers.
In closing, speaking on behalf of the County Board and all county employees, we are thankful for the opportunity to serve the citizens of St. Louis County now and into the future. Happy 2014 to all!
Kevin Z. Gray is the St. Louis County administrator. He wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune.