County's budget situation deteriorating

The county's share of state budget pain has swelled to a possible $16.5 million. As anticipated, the state financial status dominated board discussion Tuesday.

The county's share of state budget pain has swelled to a possible $16.5 million. As anticipated, the state financial status dominated board discussion Tuesday.

"Figures continue to change and get worse," said county administrator David Twa, who reiterated, "worse and worse."

He explained the county would be hit by cuts in direct state aid, cuts in categorical aids such as social services and public health, cost shifting and reductions in other areas.

Twa added the county is facing significant levy limits under the governor's proposal, and even more so under a plan by state Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, to freeze property taxes.

Twa is not optimistic about voter support for raising the levy. And it would take more than a 20 percent levy increase to offset anticipated state cuts. He expects the county will be able to go up about 2 percent next year, but increases beyond that could require voter approval.


"The types of services we provide don't tend to be very popular," he said. "We are looking at severe limitations in what we can do to raise revenue."

However, at least some county commissioners believe levy restrictions are warranted to keep local government from passing the state cuts onto property owners.

County staff began what will be an ongoing process to explain the impact of the projected cuts.

"We anticipate as much as $2.25 to $3 million in cuts in 2004-05," said Linda Anderson, director of public health and social services. "The governor's budget seeks to aggressively contain costs in health care by reducing the number of persons eligible for services."

She said the elimination of Minnesota's General Assistance Medical Care will cost the county about $200,000 plus revenue lost by medical providers.

Anderson said Medicaid cuts will cost the county about $250,000 and could be as high as $4 million when all the service providers are included.

She said participants in Minnesota Care will have to pay, and there will be eligibility reductions in emergency assistance programs.

Anderson also outlined changes to the Minnesota Family Investment Plan that will cost the county about $2.5 million. One measure means no increase in assistance if a parent has another child.


"As we reduce our budgets, clearly, health and human services will be affected," she said. "We will no longer be able to deliver all the services and programs. ... The county will need to prioritize."

She is expecting more details later this month and is planning community meetings in Duluth and on the Range.

After considerable discussion and political finger pointing, the board passed a generic resolution expressing its budget concerns to the Legislature and state administration.

Later, in committee, the board agreed to continue the county hiring freeze. Departments headed by elected officials are excluded for now, though they are encouraged to support the board's cost containment efforts.

The board also decided to have the administration inform the Wellstone Action Group that the county is interested in a memorial to the late senator. Ideas have included renaming Old Highway 53, putting a memorial near the crash site or renaming the Anchor Lake rest stop.

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