Douglas County shutdown woes: “Everything’s going to seed”Is Minnesota “going to seed” as the state government shutdown continues to hit vital programs in its 87 counties?
By: Wendy Wilson, Alexandria Echo Press
Is Minnesota “going to seed” as the state government shutdown continues to hit vital programs in its 87 counties?
The Douglas County Board of Commissioners discussed the question and other local ramifications of the shutdown at its meeting Tuesday, July 12.
“I think this is the craziest thing that we have seen in the state of Minnesota for some years – that they cannot get along down there, our Legislature and governor – that they could not at least do a ‘lights on’ thing to keep things like this from happening,” commissioner Jerry Johnson said.
A PRICKLY STATE OF AFFAIRS
Thistles growing along the Central Lakes Trail were just the beginning of the messy state of affairs caused by the battle between the Minnesota Legislature and Governor Dayton, according to Johnson.
“We can’t spray the thistles, but state law in Minnesota says you can’t allow thistles to seed – noxious weeds to seed,” Johnson said. “Well, I don’t think those thistles are going to wait.”
Chairperson Norm Salto weighed in.
“You have got the same problem with the interstate and highways right now,” he said. “Everything’s going to seed.”
In general, the trail is not being maintained, according to Public Works Director Dave Robley.
“There is no agreement in place right now,” Robley said. “We intend to do emergency maintenance if trees fall across the trail or culverts – or we will take care of some safety hazards, but other than that, we are not planning to do any maintenance.”
Robley said his department is continuing some projects in the wake of the shutdown without payment from the state.
“It is constitutionally dedicated money and it is there,” he said. “It is just that they are not processing payments until they get back. It is not general fund money that may be cut, so it is not a huge risk.”
Bids will be opened next week for work on the bike trail from Lake L’Homme Dieu to Crestwood, but cannot be awarded until certification is received from the state. Likewise, work on the Millerville bridge awaits state approval of its plans and for the Department of Natural Resources to process the permit.
Robley said his department was informed they were not to perform construction work in Minnesota Department of Transportation right of way areas, including the trail.
“They really need to get their act together down there,” Johnson said. “If they are going to fool around like this – both sides – they need to at least keep us going…It cost the state a lot of money to shut down…There is absolutely no sense to it and we need to send them that message – and it has to be a non-political thing.”
Salto said, “Look at all the projects that are being delayed that are not going to get done this year that were awarded.”
And Dan Olson added, “A number of people are not going to be able to make their payments and everything else.”
Sandra Tubbs, Douglas County public health director, addressed the delayed payments her department was experiencing.
“It is not in any way threatening our budget here,” Tubbs said. “We are absolutely fine.”
However, the April/ May/June payment had not been received.
“It remains to be seen whether we will get all of that,” Tubbs said. “It won’t go away, but they can do anything they want.”
She was expecting funding cuts, however.
“We have been told that we should not be doing child and checkup outreach, that that should be suspended,” she said, but explained that they continued to notify parents of children who were due.
Social Services Director Mike Woods said he recently had cause to hug the director of the YMCA.
The YMCA childcare program had volunteered to cover individuals whose childcare assistance ended during the government shutdown.
“It is really a great community service that they did.”
Woods said other childcare providers had also offered to work with their clients during the shutdown.
He emphasized that an agreement to the government stalemate needed to be reached.
“There are a number of families that are greatly affected,” Woods said. “These are hard-working, employed individuals and single parents. In many cases, sometimes both parents are working… It’s a big dilemma.”
On Wednesday, Chief Judge Kathleen Gearin of Ramsey County District Court filed an amended order expanding the programs and grants that would receive continued funding, including childcare assistance.
Woods said many programs administered by his department had been deemed critical by the special master, including healthcare, medical assistance, and food stamps.
“We are experiencing some minor delays because the support structure at St. Paul has been reduced,” he said. Therefore, some programs may receive payments a day or two late.
A welfare fraud investigator contract was not returned, but he recommended continuing it through July.
“It is generating money,” he said. “It is keeping people honest. It’s a program I think we need to continue.”
He said he would offer another opinion if the shutdown continued to August.
Woods emphasized that the special master’s rulings were only effective through July 31.
“There is no guarantee of anything beyond July 31,” he said.
“I think we’re starting to feel the pinch right now in that the money is not coming to us,” he said. “I think we can handle the temporary lack of cash flow.”
Woods looked at the long-term picture:
“Many of these programs that my office operates would cost the county money to ramp back up,” he said.
And he was cautious about a settlement. “Depends on what they settle for. And some of the reasons why we are in a shutdown is because of the human service policy questions.”