WALKER -- Cass County commissioners evaluated the county's progress through the last year at their annual retreat Friday at Hope Lutheran Church in Walker.
Administrator Robert Yochum tallied written ballots the commissioners submitted. These showed they think their planning process has been at least 75 percent effective, and the commissioners met each other's expectations.
However, accomplishing goals set last year has been less than 50 percent successful.
The board completed the county comprehensive water, private land, public land and infrastructure plan. Yochum reported the staff regularly refers to the plan and measures departmental success in relation to it.
The board managed to prepare a balanced budget, and staff implemented the budget without overages during a year when the county sustained significant state funding losses.
Commissioners did their homework and were prepared for meetings, asked questioned to learn from each other and maintained contact with citizens and each other.
The board was involved in local and state associations, with several department heads serving as president or state legislative lobbyists for their state organizations, Yochum said, but involvement in national organizations was minimized because of costs.
The biggest failing, despite continuing attempts to find partners for a regional jail, was the county's inability in 2003 to find a solution to the county's jail overpopulation. More road deputies were added in 2003.
Progress was made to manage out-of-home child placement costs. A multi-departmental screening team Probation Officer Reno Wells leads has been carefully evaluating each child placement to try to reduce those costs.
That team recommended placements for 33 boys and 16 girls ranging in age from 1 month to 17 years during the last six months. They included children who were victims of neglect or abuse, had severe emotional problems and those who exhibited serious criminal behavior. The month-old child tested positive for crack cocaine.
With 90 percent of Cass' out-of-home placement children American Indian, Yochum said the committee is finding the real challenge is to reconcile the county's concern for the child's welfare first with the federal Indian Child Welfare Act, which sets the tribe/community as first priority, family second and the child last.
The county still is working on ways to allow more agricultural land to be developed, taking inventory of community sewer and water district potentials and implementing clear state and county all-terrain vehicle guidelines.
Cass' expanding Web site proved one of its biggest successes. Extensive maps, application forms and information resources have been posted on the Web site. Public response has been positive and has saved staff time for answering public questions, Yochum said.
While building permit applications, job applications and maps have been popular with Web browsers and downloaders, Yochum said the top interest so far was the 3,080 hits from people looking for the 2002 election results.
Bumper stickers for county vehicles to advertise the Web site are in production.
Yochum reported an Association of Minnesota Counties poll conducted recently showed counties are the least understood unit of government when compared with the state, city, township or schools.
This survey also showed county government has a 46 percent approval rating and 17 percent disapproval rating statewide, with informed citizens giving it a 62 percent approval and 19 percent disapproval rating.
Yochum emphasized the significance this can have to Cass' effort to use the Web site to provide more county information to the public.
While Cass commissioners and staff have communicated with Leech Lake Reservation officials, there still has not been a hoped-for formal meeting between the board and the current Tribal Council.
Cass commissioners cut funding in 2003 to anything they believed was not a direct county function.
Yochum said the 2004 challenge will be to find non-financial ways to support programs.
Health, Human and Veterans Services employees have assumed coordination of the Council on Aging without adding staff.
The county has taken preliminary steps to publish its own plat book, which 4-H then would be able to continue to distribute as a fund-raiser.
How the county will offer non-financial support to Cass County Economic Development Corp., the Initiative Foundation or Cass County Historical Museum has yet to be determined.
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