County hesitant over regional collaborative

Published 10:04 am Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A decision about a proposed regional human services redesign is expected to take place later this month after Freeborn County commissioners continue to discuss the potential collaboration.

Raising concerns about transition costs and how each county’s role would be weighted, the board voted last week to table a decision about whether to join in with the collaboration. Commissioners will take up the issue again Tuesday at the Freeborn County Human Services board meeting.

“I have some real reservations,” said board Chairman Dan Belshan last week.

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The action comes as 12 counties, including Freeborn County, are considering whether to join in the collaboration to deliver services. Other counties considering the redesign are Dodge, Fillmore, Goodhue, Houston, Mower, Olmsted, Rice, Steele, Wabasha, Waseca and Winona.

At least a half dozen of the counties are expected to vote this week whether to participate.

Freeborn County Administrator John Kluever said Tuesday afternoon he had not heard back from any of the counties that that had been slated to vote Tuesday.

Costs will be reconfigured if other counties drop out of discussions.

Locally, commissioners have pointed out concerns with taking away local control of services and asked whether it would be better to cluster with two or three other counties instead of having a dozen-county redesign. Belshan also pointed out concerns with the costs of transitioning to the collaborative model — particularly a proposed $11 million that is slated to go toward the consultant firm that has been working on developing the project.

“There’s a lot of questions and a lot of things that haven’t played out yet with other counties,” he said.

The proposal has been in the works for more than two years and 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 a lagging economy and the aging of the population.

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

First District Commissioner Glen Mathiason and the other commissioners asked about Olmsted County’s role in the collaboration and noted that under the current proposal, it would account for 48 out of 100 votes. He asked how many votes it would take to approve items, and voiced support for needing at least three to five other counties on board in addition to Olmsted before an item can pass.

Kluever said it has not yet been determined how many votes will be needed to pass items.

The commissioners stated they had additional questions that needed to be answered, and said they did not want to take the decision lightly.

Kluever said under the current plan Freeborn County would avoid $25 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.

Estimates at one point called for $19 million in startup costs among all the counties.