BACKUS - The Cass County Board expressed a willingness to further discuss a major local government/state powers revamp the Association of Minnesota Counties released at the end of February, using comments from Cass staff to start discussion.
While the board did not take a stand as commissioners on specific points, the board decided Tuesday to send copies of County Administrator Robert Yochum's and several department heads' comments to an upcoming legislative conference and to area state legislators as Cass' stand on the controversial AMC platform.
Chief Financial Officer Larry Wolfe told the board the AMC proposal to replace state aids to counties with a half-cent local sales tax likely would net Cass about $500,000 revenue gain after this year's proposed aid cuts. The impact on other counties, however would vary greatly, with some to gain much more than Cass and others to lose millions in revenue if that change were enacted, he said.
Cass' added $500,000 would not nearly cover costs for other provisions of AMC's platform, which called for counties to take over patrolling duties and road maintenance on state highways.
On the highway patrolling suggestion, Sheriff Randy Fisher called the suggestion thought provoking. He asked that figures be provided on where costs savings would be made and whether the state or local governments would benefit most. He also said the primary focus should be on providing adequate public safety.
County Engineer David Enblom indicated he thought cost savings might be achieved by counties assuming maintenance on state highways, but said performance targets should be set first. Appropriate new revenues need to be provided to counties to meet the targets, he said.
On the issue of the proposed half-cent sales tax, Yochum suggested that whichever level of government makes a decision to require a service also should be the agency required to pay for it. Counties and cities often have objected to state mandates imposed on them without adequate funding sources to operate services.
County Attorney Christopher Strandlie objected to lack of input from county attorneys throughout the state on AMC platform proposals such as those calling for a county magistrate/hearing officer to adjudicate certain civil and minor criminal offenses, allowing judicial reciprocity for arraignment and other early court proceedings and expanding court jurisdiction to prosecute crimes and allow for multiple prosecutions involving the same defendant.
County Planner Paul Fairbanks and ESD Director John Ringle indicated reconciling problems specific to municipalities with those specific to rural areas could make the AMC platform proposal for one statewide planning and zoning law and enforcement program a challenge.
Fairbanks said this issue might be resolved by language and statute subsections. Ringle suggested regionalizing standards might be easier to achieve than seeking a statewide standard. He questioned whether shifting jurisdictions would really effect cost savings.
The AMC platform called for the Legislature to allow counties an option to adopt a home rule charter, enabling each county to decide whether to adopt innovative ways of delivering services and differing from the statewide standards for county operation existing today.
Yochum responded to this proposal by noting such a change could "cause more mischief than management." Auditor-Treasurer Sharon Anderson noted, "Less uniformity equals greater cost, plus further degradation of government's public image."
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