Counties split on collaborative

Published 10:16 am Thursday, June 21, 2012

Counties across the region appear to be split in their support for a proposed regional human services collaboration.

As of Wednesday, county commissioners in Waseca, Dodge and Steele have said they will move forward with the collaboration, while Goodhue, Winona and Fillmore have opted out.

Freeborn County Administrator John Kluever said Freeborn County commissioners on Tuesday voted to postpone their decision, most likely until the July 3 Freeborn County Human Services Board meeting.

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“They weren’t ready to make a decision,” Kluever said.

Slated to vote next week are Houston, Rice and Mower counties.

Kluever said Wabasha County and Olmsted County, the largest county considering the collaboration, are expected to vote in July.

The proposal has been in the works for more than two years after the 12 southeast Minnesota counties selected consultant firm Accenture to develop a human services delivery model focused on moving from county-based to a regional approach. A representative from each county has also served on a steering committee as the proposal has been formed.

The idea came about because of continuous cuts in state and federal funding. This has led to reduced funding in most of the region’s counties. At the same time, more people are turning to county government for help with human services because of the lagging economy and the aging of the population.

Under the proposal, decisions for services would be made through a governance board consisting of representatives from each county, with the number of votes from each county determined by the number of people served.

Kluever said the Freeborn County commissioners still have concerns about transition costs, taking away local control of services and how each county’s role would be weighted.

He said Accenture has been paid more than $1 million in grants from the St. Paul-based Bush Foundation for development of the proposal.

Counties have also chipped in smaller contributions, based on population. Freeborn County’s share was $17,000.

Before three counties opted out of the collaboration, Freeborn County was expected to avoid $2.5 million in costs after the first five years, $5.5 million after the first 10 years and $8.4 million after the first 15 years.

These numbers would change with fewer counties on board.