County opts out of redesign of human services

Published 1:02 pm Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Freeborn County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to opt out of a proposed six-county human services merger.

Citing questions about potential cost savings, loss of local control and differences in delivery of services, commissioners said they will look at possible cost-savings on a county scale or collaboration with a few neighboring counties.

They asked whether they could opt back into the potential Southeastern Minnesota Redesign Project at a later time if the project progresses and fits in better with the county’s goals.

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“It seems to me right now the philosophy doesn’t fit well with the direction and philosophy of Freeborn County,” said Administrator John Kluever.

Also opting out of the merger Tuesday was Houston County. Remaining are Mower, Steele, Dodge and Waseca counties.

The issue came to a vote this week after officials from each of the six counties met Thursday to find out more information about a potential redesign.

The project had initially included 12 counties and called for an estimated $60 million in potential cost avoidance — about $35 million in county dollars, $23 million in federal dollars and about $2 million in state funds.

Freeborn County Human Services Director Brian Buhmann said the new estimates based on having six counties in the merger are unknown; however, it is a general assumption the numbers would go down.

Buhmann said moving forward with the project also called for an estimated $160,000, of which half was expected to come from a grant. Counties would pick up the remaining cost based on population — Freeborn County’s share, specifically, would have been $15,000. This would cover the next phase of the project that is estimated to last three months.

More than two-thirds of the $160,000 was slated to go toward a project manager and additional consultant fees, which several commissioners did not agree with.

“Please don’t bring more consultant’s forth,” said Commissioner Dan Belshan.

Consultant firm Accenture has already been paid about $1 million in grants from the St. Paul-based Bush Foundation for the development of the initial 12-county proposal, and counties chipped in smaller contributions based on population.

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 economy and the aging of the population.