Fewer tax dollars and fewer workers may be one of the challenges facing a future Crow Wing County Board.
Administrator Tim Houle said information presented in 2011 by Tom Stinson, when he was state economist and Tom Gillaspy, then state demographer, pointed to predictions for a slower recovery with jobs not reaching pre-recession levels until this year. Those predictions, Houle said, have been holding true.
Houle said many of the other talking points in the duo’s presentation continue to be worth noting, such as the rising tide of retirement age workers.
The state demographer’s office reported from 2010 to 2020, Minnesota will see large increases in residents who are in their 50s and 60s. Behind them is a much smaller labor force.
The “new normal” economy from Stinson and Gillaspy’s presentation is predicted to have higher interest rates, scare resources in labor and talent, slower economic growth, a single-minded focus on productivity, increased numbers of retirees, a more diverse population and more uncertainty about the future.
In addition, Houle said the new normal probably means chronic government deficits and service cuts, worries about paying for past promises and creative destruction/disruptive innovation to change how services are delivered.
What is created, Houle said, is a new set of opportunities. And, he noted, it puts it into perspective to consider if health care continues to rise there will be fewer dollars for other needs from transportation to education.
“I would suggest to you we are on the cusp of what they are talking about,” Houle said.
Future challenges identified include a move to continue to increase productivity while depending on fewer employees. And managing to meet that goal, Houle said, will depend on current decisions and investments like technology. The county will need to make tough choices about services it needs to shed, Houle said.
“It is one thing to stay how busy we are,” Houle said. “It is much more important we talk about what we were accomplishing.”
He described staff members as intelligent, hard-working with a know-how to get things done.
“We know what needs to be done here more than anyone in St. Paul, more than anyone in Washington, D.C.,” Houle said.
So what does the county have in abundance? An experienced staff with “real know-how based on real life,” Houle answered. Other items listed in abundance included the county’s financial health, its work to redesign itself already in play and knowledge of the community.
To do this, Houle said he needed the board’s support in asking each senior manager to develop a plan to answer what they would do if they had 15 percent fewer resources and couldn’t find the talent to fill 15 percent of the positions they have today.
The board concurred. Commissioner Rosemary Franzen said Houle was just following the board’s direction it made in hiring him. Commissioner Paul Thiede said the board can agree but it will only work if everyone is invested, which is why the board has encouraged ownership throughout the organization.
Commissioner Paul Koering said he’d like to see government match where the private sector is going in terms of technology. He pointed to the self check-out lines as indicators of fewer employees in retail settings. And he said the county has to analyze whether to fill job vacancies.
Houle noted the 85 percent of land-use permits are now submitted online.
“It’s an astounding figure considering we’ve only been doing it for nine months,” Houle said.
As for the future, Houle said: “I have no idea what the solution is but I believe the solution is here. We just need to ferret it out.”