Year Three…

Written by Jeff Johnson on January 22, 2011. Posted in General

My Third Year on the Board Begins

Two weeks ago, we opened the 2011 season of the Hennepin County Board by reelecting Mike Opat as chairman and returning all seven commissioners to the same chairmenships we held over the past two years.  I will again be chairman of the Public Safety Committee and co-chairman with Peter McLaughlin of our Intergovernmental Affairs Committee.

As you can see in my last post from 2010, we finished the year on a relatively positive note, with a small overall tax cut for Hennepin County property tax payers.  The cut was not as large as it could have or should have been, but Hennepin County is taxing less and spending less in 2011 than 2010 – and that’s a good thing.

We still have a LONG way to go before I’ll be willing to argue that we’re spending wisely on the right priorities in the county, but we should always recognize and appreciate steps in the right direction.

Expect to see further such steps in 2011.  As the property tax burden continues to shift from commercial property to homeowners, as property values continue to drop (or at least not rise), as we likely see further cuts in state aid to the county and as all that “free” manna from heaven (also known as federal stimulus money) thankfully disappears, more significant changes will have to occur.

Never let a good crisis go to waste, right?

I believe 2011 will see continued innovation and reform of county government, and am thankful that we will be forced to make some difficult choices about priorities and spending that have been avoided to this point.

For me, three areas of interest stand out:

1. The debt needed to fund planned county capital projects is projected to grow at a frightening pace.  There are others on the board who share this concern and I will be working hard with them to bring our borrowing under control.

2. As I told my colleagues at a recent meeting, we’ve gone completely berserk with respect to funding of light rail projects.  The county rail authority’s budget will increase by about 130% in 2011 (from $27 million to $62 million), with similar increases budgeted into the foreseeable future.  As a skeptic of the benefits of light rail, I’m in the distinct minority on the board (a minority of one, to be exact), but I won’t give up on this fight and will continue to work to inform the public of the terrible cost/benefit equation on most of these projects.

3. We have a great opportunity at the legislature this year to eliminate some state mandates that translate into direct unnecessary costs to county taxpayers.  I’ll be over at the Capitol frequently to advocate for those changes.

 And so Year Three begins…

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