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Our view: Get government out of where it doesn't belong

St. Louis County's summer of slash continued yesterday as commissioners one more time put practice to the preaching that where the private sector can step up government ought to step back.

St. Louis County's summer of slash continued yesterday as commissioners one more time put practice to the preaching that where the private sector can step up government ought to step back.

The county's elected leaders saved taxpayers a bundle by voting to lease to a private company the county's long-held Chris Jensen nursing home in Duluth. As John Myers reports in today's paper (and reported yesterday at duluthnewstribune.com), Minneapolis-based Health Dimensions Group will pay the county $50,000 to $70,000 a year for the next five years under the lease arrangement.

That's income in the face of a loss of $735,000 of taxpayers' money this year on Chris Jensen. The county stands to save an estimated $8.5 million because of the lease deal in operations expenses and capital improvements.

Health Dimensions Group will benefit, too. The county will pay about $500,000 of $700,000 in necessary building improvements. And the deal allows the company to move on its plans to build a "senior care campus" in the Duluth area with Chris Jensen's 165 state-licensed beds at its center. Assisted living and senior apartments also would be included.

The Duluth area's aging population can welcome Health Dimensions Group, which operates 24 nursing homes across the country already, including four in the state. The company has a reputation for quality care, and yesterday, during the County Board meeting in Duluth, county Administrator Kevin Gray praised the company's track record.

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About the only ones skittish are Chris Jensen's more than 200 employees who worry Health Dimensions Group will offer reduced retirement and health-care benefits along with similar wages. The company has stated it's willing to recognize the union, however, and, encouragingly, already has scheduled a meeting in October.

The lease deal for Chris Jensen comes just weeks after commissioners, facing a

$6 million gap in balancing their 2010 budget, voted to end county involvement in an assisted-living program in Duluth senior citizen apartment complexes. It also followed the County Board's decision in August to sell the South St. Louis County Fairgrounds to the city of Proctor.

"St. Louis County is getting out of the entertainment business," Commissioner Chris Dahlberg said at the time.

And out of other businesses where it apparently no longer belongs or is needed.

The private sector is stepping up.

St. Louis County is one government body showing a willingness to step back -- to the benefit of the taxpaying public.

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