2005 State of the County Address
Hennepin County Board Chair Randy Johnson
Coffman Union, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
April 1, 2005
Thank you, President Bruininks, for hosting us today...and thank you to the University of Minnesota staff for your gracious help in making arrangements for all of us.
President Bruininks and I share many interests, including a special interest in the people and culture of China ... a country we both have visited.
In talking to people as they arrived over the last half hour or so, I heard two comments over and over.
First; "Hey, Coffman Union sure looks a whole lot better than when I went to the U!" And, second; "Yeah, it still takes a long time to find a parking place on campus!"
I selected the University as the site of the 2005 State of the County address to highlight the fact that Hennepin County-- the state's largest local government --and the University -- the state's largest educational institution and only research university --are now working even more closely together.
As far as we can determine ... this is the first time that Hennepin County has held a major, public event at the University of Minnesota. That is surprising since both Hennepin and the University have operated for more than 150 years. The University is actually one year older than the county. It received its charter from the Territorial Legislature of Minnesota in 1851 ... and, in 1852, the Territorial Legislature created Hennepin County.
And, President Bruininks, some of these days when I am over at the State Capitol, I think we would both be better off if we were dealing with that old Territorial Legislature!
Many of you crossed it today, but very few people know that the Washington Avenue Bridge over the Mississippi River -- only a few hundred feet from here -- is a Hennepin County bridge. Hennepin replaced the concrete railings, removed the old lead paint, and repainted the entire bridge a few years ago. And, it is the only bridge in Hennepin County - I am sure the only bridge in the world - that is painted maroon and gold!
I will be talking more about the relationship between the University and Hennepin County in a few minutes.
It is gratifying to see so many people here today with different backgrounds and interests, including the academic community and University students, business, organized labor, non-profit organization, Hennepin staff and interested citizens. Thank you for coming.
I especially want to recognize those people who have run for and hold elected office. Would all of the local and other elected officials please stand so we can recognize your service and contributions to our communities?
Hennepin's elected officials
I am pleased to introduce my colleagues on the County Board and our other elected county officials.
With great pride, I can report that four of our seven commissioners are graduates of the University of Minnesota.
The District 1 Commissioner is Mike Opat, who represents the northwest corner of Minneapolis and the north suburban area. Mike received a bachelor's degree from the "U."
District 2 Commissioner Mark Stenglein is the vice chair of the County Board. Mark represents parts of north and northeast Minneapolis and some western suburbs.
The District 3 Commissioner is Gail Dorfman, who represents southwest Minneapolis and the City of St. Louis Park.
District 4 Commissioner Peter McLaughlin represents the southeast portion of Minneapolis and Fort Snelling, and the University's Minneapolis campus. Peter received a master's degree from the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.
As you heard earlier, I represent Hennepin's District 5, which includes Bloomington, Eden Prairie and Richfield ... and I earned my law degree right here.
District 6 Commissioner Linda Koblick represents the southwestern part of the county. Linda, too, is a graduate of the University of Minnesota.
The District 7 commissioner is Penny Steele, who represents all or part of nearly 20 cities in the far north and western areas of the county.
Our Hennepin County Attorney is Amy Klobuchar. She serves as the chief prosecutor of adult felony and juvenile crimes in the county, and she is responsible for providing legal counsel to the County Board and county departments.
The Sheriff of Hennepin County is Patrick McGowan - who serves as the chief law enforcement officer.
Lucy Wieland is the chief judge of Hennepin County District Court. She is responsible for ensuring the effective management and administration of the court.
I also want to recognize County Administrator Sandy Vargas ... and Deputy Administrator Richard Johnson.
Although Hennepin County commissioners are elected on a non-partisan ballot, it is no secret that I am a political conservative and a lifelong Republican. I also believe ... passionately … in the work of Hennepin County … the mission of Hennepin County Medical Center ... the importance of the University of Minnesota … and sound, smart, truly balanced state budgets.
The state of Hennepin County
Hennepin County is by far the largest unit of local government in the state. The estimated market value of property is $117 billion ... and our 2005 county budget totals nearly $1.8 billion. More than 1.1 million people - nearly one-quarter of the state's population - live in Hennepin County.
According to the state Demographer's Office, Minnesota has the second lowest poverty rate in the nation ... the second highest rate of home ownership ... the highest median family income ... and is Number One in the percentage of women in the labor force.
More than 88 percent of Hennepin County residents over age 25 are high school graduates… one of the top percentages in the nation among counties with more than a million people.
The state demographer says the high rankings in several categories are evidence that "this cold state at the end of the road" continues to attract the bright young minds that are key to our region's future prosperity.
I like to think that the high quality programs, services and opportunities provided by Hennepin County contribute to making this a place where people choose to live and work.
Hennepin County government provides a wide range of services and programs - many of them mandated by the state and federal governments. And the demand for almost every one of our services is increasing.
Our role as stewards of the public's assets was made even more difficult by the $100 million in state reductions that were handed down to us in 2003 and 2004. These cuts forced us to eliminate or reduce programs and vendor contracts ... to offer early retirement incentives to some of our most capable and experienced staff ... and to lay off some employees.
This year we restored some funding to areas that were most affected by the 2003-2004 state cutbacks - primarily Human Services and Community Corrections programs. The budget also provided nearly $20 million to implement the first phase of an electronic health records system at Hennepin County Medical Center ... as well as additional capital for the medical center. We were able to do this and still have the lowest percentage increase in property taxes among metro area counties.
What is the state of Hennepin County in 2005? The state of the county is sound ... but it is very seriously challenged.
We have weathered the state's financial crisis for the time being ... and our financial health is strong because we made some tough decisions. We are continuing to provide the kinds of services our community has come to expect and needs from Hennepin County. We are doing so, however, with fewer resources ... and that requires difficult choices and adjustments.
Hennepin County is entering a new era - one that many other local governments also are facing. Here are just some of the challenges before us.
- Hennepin County is recognized as a national leader. But how much longer can we meet residents' expectations if we continue to receive less and less funding for mandated programs from the state and federal governments?
- Looking to the future, Hennepin County Medical Center - our largest single operation -- cannot continue its mission as a public hospital by continuing to follow a strategy of laying off hundreds of employees every few years.
- Just because the state and federal governments have reduced the hospital's scheduled revenues by $70 million since 1997 ... that does not mean that fewer patients will show up at the HCMC Emergency Room and clinics. Sick people do not disappear just because the federal and statement governments reduce commitments to fund their care.
- We have funded many of our homeland security programs through property taxes. Shouldn't this be a greater responsibility of the federal government, paid for nationally and not by local property taxpayers?
- And, we cannot continue to balance our budget by drawing down our reserve funds ... possibly jeopardizing our triple-A rating for bond sales, which would increase our costs.
The good news is that Hennepin has retained its triple-A rating from the three top bond-rating agencies ... reflecting our strong financial and operational stability. Hennepin is one of only 21 counties -- of the 3,100 counties nationwide -- to have this top rating ... and we have kept the triple-A rating for 30 consecutive years!
However, there is no doubt that Hennepin County is going to continue to face huge challenges involving money ... as will the University ... while the state struggles to get its financial house in order.
In many ways, I think the Governor's proposed budget for the next biennium - and most legislative responses - are quick fixes. They avoid dealing with the state's underlying and structural financial problems. They are not dealing realistically with the sharp increases in health care costs.
Two former state finance commissioners - Jay Kiedrowski, a senior fellow at the University's Humphrey Institute, and John Gunyou, the city manager of Minnetonka - are vocal critics of Governor Pawlenty's budget proposal and much of what the Legislature has done - or not done. They say the Governor and Legislature rely too much on:
- Payment shifts
- Program cuts, which have a direct impact on county services
- Increased fees for services, and
- Gambling money
I agree with much of what Kiedrowski and Gunyou - one a Democrat, the other a Republican - are saying ... including their warning that local governments and school districts will be forced to raise property taxes in order to offset the lack of necessary state funds. "No new taxes" in Minnesota has come to mean that the state now calls a new tax by another three-letter word - "fee" - and it also shifts the source of funding for needed and mandated public services to property taxes levied by local governments.
Since I am on the subject… and since we are here at the University ... and since I have a daughter attending the University ... I know that "no new taxes" means the state has also forced the University to dramatically increase the fee we call "student tuition." That is not progress in a state that has prided itself in providing quality, affordable, higher education.
Just as the University has to bridge the gap, so do Hennepin County property taxpayers until the state fixes its structural financial problems.
Hennepin's relationship with the University of Minnesota
We Minnesotans strongly value all of the great higher education institutions in the state - our public and private colleges and universities, and our technical colleges.
At Hennepin County, we realize that one way to help us succeed in this time of tight budgets is through a stronger collaboration with one of the state's greatest resources -- the University of Minnesota.
Let me ask a question - How many people here today attended or graduated from the University - or are students now? Please raise your hands.
That is what I expected. From that show of hands, you can see why the University is a statewide resource with a significant impact on our society and culture ... and a major economic engine for the State of Minnesota.
There are so many amazing facts about the University, but we all want to go home for dinner at some point so I will just mention a few:
- This year's enrollment on the Twin Cities campus is 51,000 students -- making it the second largest campus in the nation, behind only Ohio State.
- The University conducts 98 percent of all sponsored, academic research in Minnesota, ranging from medicine to agriculture to behavioral studies on twins to chemical engineering.
- Alumni from the Institute of Technology have founded more than 3000 companies -- most of which are in Minnesota.
- Finally, University of Minnesota research accomplishments over the years include the invention of the first heart pacemaker ... the black box, or flight recorder, for aircraft ... the retractable seat belt for cars ... and one of the primary HIV/AIDS cocktail drugs ... along with the development of hundreds of cold-hardy plant varieties ... and the widely used personality test, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory.
The MMPI by the way is the test that was given to the seven Hennepin County Commissioners ... and determined that we had 13 different personalities!
Hennepin and the University already have a long, informal history of working together.
Hennepin County Medical Center was the first teaching hospital in the state associated with the University's Medical School. More than 160 University of Minnesota residents and medical students are at HCMC every day for clinical experience.
Full-time faculty at HCMC who teach residents and students -- virtually all of the 275 Hennepin Faculty Associate members -- have academic appointments at the University Medical School and are members of its teaching faculty.
Hennepin also has informal ties with the university's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, the Law School, the China Center and the Carlson School of Management.
With the leadership of Commissioner Linda Koblick, Hennepin and the University are joining forces to create a stronger alignment and greater level of collaboration. Our common goal is to connect the scholarship and research of the University with the actual hands-on laboratory that is Hennepin County ... linking the resources of all the schools within the University to the services within all 30 county departments.
County Administration recommended and the board approved one of the very few new positions in our budget - a liaison jointly funded by Hennepin and the University.
The job is to develop partnering opportunities...and work between our institutions to promote, share, connect and document our path over time. We will track and measure those areas in which we are most effective in creating shared opportunities that make sense ... create better outcomes ... and hopefully save resources.
The liaison coordinator is Kathie Doty - I want Kathie to stand so everyone knows who she is. (Pause.) Now as soon as I am done, I want all of you to overwhelm her with ideas for Hennepin/University collaboration. Leaders from both Hennepin and the University are committed to making this partnership work.
Some of the early joint efforts we are studying ... ones which can serve as models for what might be accomplished in the future ... include:
- Early childhood literacy, involving the county Library and the University's Department of Educational Psychology.
- Sustainable design initiatives, involving the county's Property Services and Environmental Services departments, and the University's School of Architecture.
- Hennepin's African American Men Project is working with several partners to transform the lives of young African American men and their families. Commissioner Mark Stenglein initiated this project, which has targeted housing, education, family and employment.
- And, lastly, a joint effort to streamline and reduce costs in our contracting processes.
This is not the work plan for the coming year ... but it is representative of the ideas we are already pursuing.
This Hennepin/University initiative was formally launched just one month ago. As our collaboration develops, I am certain that we will discover more and more opportunities to strategically work together to solve important public policy issues.
If you have ideas ... talk to Kathie Doty, to Linda Koblick, to President Bruininks, or to me.
Hennepin's primary goals
We are looking to this new partnership with the University to help Hennepin County achieve our five primary goals … designed to build and maintain the quality of life for all of us. Our goals are to help people be:
- Protected and Safe,
- Assured Due Process,
- and Mobile.
The first goal, that our citizens are healthy - means that people have access to quality health care ... and live in a clean environment.
Hennepin County Medical Center
The Hennepin County Medical Center is a world-class hospital ... with a world-class staff. It is one of the premier teaching and research hospitals in the United States … and Minnesota's first Level One Trauma Center. U.S. News & World Report has ranked HCMC as one of the nation's best hospitals for seven years in a row.
Hennepin County Medical Center is truly a statewide resource. For example:
- Nearly one-half of the state's physicians received some of their training at the Medical Center.
- Students in 64 different health professions gain clinical experience at HCMC.
- And HCMC provides education and training for health care providers and students from across the state ... including emergency/trauma training for first responders, EMS personnel, flight crews and emergency medicine physicians and nurses.
Our Medical Center also is the state's largest provider of care to the indigent and other vulnerable populations ... providing 18 percent of the uncompensated care in Minnesota.
To meet the standard of care in the community and federal law ... HCMC is installing a new electronic health record system that will integrate patient records throughout the hospital and clinics, covering more than 450,000 patient visits a year. This $68-million investment is vital to the long-term future of HCMC and the patients we serve. The County Board voted unanimously to spend the money to move this forward.
Our goal is to enable Hennepin County Medical Center to continue as one of America's best teaching hospitals and retain our top-flight professional and support staff ... for the benefit of all county residents.
In December, a majority of the County Board adopted a resolution ... asking the Minnesota Legislature to create a public hospital subsidiary corporation within the county governmental structure. The new model is not a privatization or a spin-off of a new independent corporation. The decision was made after a citizens task force unanimously recommended this as one of the key changes to keep HCMC viable in today's competitive health-care market.
Under this plan, HCMC will remain a public hospital. And the County Board would retain final policy control ... meaning approval of the budget and oversight of the hospital's safety-net mission. A new board ... including people with experience in health care, finance and related fields ... will be appointed to provide operational oversight.
This is a big change in governance structure, and I know that many HCMC employees are concerned about the future, the mission of HCMC, and job security. We have spent many hundreds of hours working with managers, employees and their unions. I am pleased to report that last night we reached agreement with AFSCME unions on a legislative package.
As AFSCME Council 5 Executive Director Elliott Seide has paraphrased one of his Union local Presidents, who paraphrased the quality Guru Edwards Demming, "Employees will embrace change when they have reasonable assurances of security."
This morning our bill passed out of the Senate State and Local Government Operations Committee with only one dissenting vote. Representative Ron Abrams is our Chief House author and I expect the first hearing on the House bill will be next week.
I especially want to thank our Senate author, Linda Berglin, for her hard work and astute counsel. I know she had serious misgivings about our original proposal, and she helped us make it much better.
Another county health facility -- the NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center in North Minneapolis -- is expanding to enable it to handle more patients. The board has approved funding to remodel the clinic's health care, dental care, and community health areas. NorthPoint ... formerly Pilot City Health Center ... experienced a 20-percent increase in patient volume from 2002 to 2004.
Many of you know that I have somewhat strong views on smoking. Last October, the board approved a countywide ordinance prohibiting smoking in restaurants, bars and other places that serve food in Hennepin County. Hennepin's tobacco-free ordinance went into effect yesterday morning at 12:01 a.m.
The question came down to: "Does a person have a right to smoke in a place that is open to the public ... or should that right be limited because of public health concerns?" To me, the answer is clear ... public health trumps any right to smoke in a public place.
So far, we have had only a handful of complaints to our hotline since the ban went into effect.
Protected and safe is our second goal. We want our residents to be safe from harm through prevention, early intervention and treatment services ... and through improved public safety.
Our human services programs have long stressed the importance of prevention and early intervention, especially with at-risk families and children. We are developing what we call "the Front Door" -- providing one access point to many services, rather than sending clients from "door to door" looking for what they need.
The opportunity to develop the Front Door was created when the county's six former social services departments merged into the single Human Services and Public Health Department. The merger expanded opportunities to share resources and staff in ways that will ultimately improve outcomes for clients through better integration of services.
It also is an example of how Hennepin County continues to become a customer-service organization.
Earlier this month, the County Board approved a resolution, offered by Commissioner Steele, aimed at improving customer service. For the first time, we will develop a county-wide customer service master plan ... along with an ongoing evaluation process - from the customer's perspective.
"Protected and safe residents" also means public safety and homeland security.
The Homeland Security Unit in the Sheriff's Office is coordinating the countywide response to terrorism threats. The unit has trained and equipped a new weapons-of-mass-destruction tactical response team, with representatives from several local police departments, Metro Transit and the University of Minnesota Police Department.
Another important component in homeland security is our Emergency Preparedness Division. Besides working closely with local emergency managers and first responders on disaster planning, training and exercises, our staff has worked with county departments on how to recover and restart the operations of the county government should something cause them to be interrupted.
We are concerned about the safety of persons who visit county facilities, as well as the safety of our employees.
Hennepin conducted its first-ever, full-scale evacuation at the Government Center last July. It was one of the largest ever by any local government. More than 1,500 employees and 250 visitors ... some needing assistance ... were evacuated within 27 minutes. Evaluators rated that as excellent.
Much more controversial was our start up of a weapons-screening program last month at the Government Center. We are trying to provide a higher level of protection while maintaining reasonable public access. Screening at the public service level is now mandatory for all visitors seeking access to the Court and Administration towers. We are also looking at how best to improve security in our other buildings.
Our third goal is that people are as self-reliant as possible … achieving success with the support of essential services ... getting access to affordable housing ... and having opportunities for life-long learning.
Safe, affordable housing is essential to stability, especially for the most vulnerable in our society. We know that if people have that stability, they are far more likely to be self-sufficient and successful.
Affordable housing options are very limited for low-income families in the county. The county Housing and Redevelopment Authority, chaired by Commissioner Gail Dorfman, recently approved projects that will provide more than 750 affordable housing units throughout the county.
Since the county's Affordable Housing Incentive Fund was created in 2000, Hennepin has invested $20 million in 64 affordable housing projects. The money has helped leverage more than $400 million in public/private funding ... and supported the creation of more than 3,400 housing units.
The goal of self-reliant residents also envisions the importance of informed citizens ... learning throughout their lives. Perhaps Hennepin's most popular service is our suburban library system. Last year, a record 12 million items were borrowed. What's new? As of this week, we have added wireless broadband Internet connections so patrons can use their personal laptop computers at all 26 locations.
Assured due process is Hennepin's fourth goal. Our judicial system is adversarial by design, but it must be respectful and assure fairness, and reliability in determining liability, guilt and innocence.
Hennepin District Court, the County Attorney's Office and the Public Defender's Office are all integral parts of our criminal justice system.
Also essential is Community Corrections, which operates the Adult Corrections Facility in Plymouth, the Juvenile Detention Center in downtown Minneapolis, as well as parole and probation services. Community Corrections is moving more of its services out into, well, the community.
Next week we will open a probation office in the Jordan Neighborhood of North Minneapolis. It will bring juvenile and adult probation staff closer to clients and their families ... and enable staff to work together with neighbors to address crime in the community.
Our County Attorney, Amy Klobuchar, continues to expand her successful community prosecution initiative to all corners of Hennepin County, connecting our communities with the courtroom. In addition, she has worked with local police departments to implement new investigation procedures that will increase the reliability of identifications made by eyewitnesses to crime.
In County Attorney Klobuchar's role as the county's lawyer, she has reduced the use of outside legal counsel. We can all appreciate this because it has saved the county several million dollars in property taxes over the last six years. Although we have moved to a state-run court system, Hennepin County houses those courts. Hennepin District Court as the first court system in the Nation to define performance measures and report them to the public. This includes exit surveys to find out defendants' satisfaction with the court. Other new initiatives are the Mental Health court and a restorative justice calendar.
The fifth and final goal is mobile - that people and goods move easily and safely throughout the county and the region ... through an integrated system of transportation.
Our Transportation Department is ramping up road maintenance. This summer, more than 170 miles of roads will be overlaid with bituminous - that's black top to us non-engineers. It more than doubles last year's total. Even in these difficult financial times, drivers need good roadways.
Hennepin County is now fixing potholes more efficiently and with fewer employees than ever before - and I speak from experience, as a one-time Hennepin County college student summer laborer ... whose job was to patch potholes.
Spring always brings a bumper crop of potholes. The good news is technology has given us a way to fight back -- with something called the "spray patcher." Only one person is needed to operate this truck, compared with five employees required to fix a pothole from start to finish with the old hand-patch method. This way, more potholes can be repaired each day … and the patches last four to five times longer.
We are working with cities to revitalize corridors throughout the county. The intent is to make public infrastructure improvements and to leverage private investments in area neighborhoods ... thus enhancing the long-term tax base and viability of neighborhoods.
Corridor projects include the Humboldt Greenway, which is providing housing options to residents of far North Minneapolis ... the Midtown Greenway in South Minneapolis ... 66th Street in Richfield, which is now getting under way ... and Lowry Avenue in North Minneapolis.
Commissioner Mike Opat is spearheading the Northwest Corridor project in the rapidly growing northwestern suburbs. This corridor stretches along West Broadway and County Road 81 ... which we recently renamed Bottineau Boulevard in honor of 19th-century frontiersman Pierre Bottineau. We plan to reconstruct the roadway in the next few years, and this is an excellent opportunity to mobilize resources for bus rapid transit and redevelopment.
Speaking of transit, how many of you have ridden our LRT train? The Hiawatha Line began passenger service last June. There are many destinations - for both work and leisure -- along the 12-mile route ... including Mall of America, Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport, the Bishop Whipple GSA Building, Veterans Hospital, the
Metrodome, and, of course, downtown Minneapolis. The line helps move people to their jobs and to where they want to go.
The Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority has been a major force in making light rail transit a reality in the Twin Cities ... under the strong advocacy of it chair, Commissioner Peter McLaughlin.
Ridership is about 40,000 per month, higher than forecasts - in fact twice the number of passengers originally predicted. Economic development is springing up along this corridor ... bringing new businesses, housing and jobs.
Another of the line's positive impacts is less traffic congestion. According to a Metro Transit passenger survey, about 39 percent of Hiawatha light-rail riders are converts to public transit since train service began.
The county also is a partner in the Northstar commuter rail project, which will carry passengers on existing railroad tracks between Big Lake and downtown Minneapolis ... possibly as soon as 2008.
Those rail projects are illustrations that even in difficult financial times, government officials must have the courage to make important infrastructure investments.
Sometimes people ask me why Hennepin County continues to remodel and build new facilities. The reason is simple. We do so to take care of our investment in the infrastructure which is essential to the delivery of services to our citizens.
In Eden Prairie, Hennepin opened a new Service Center in February in a former county library -- across from the from Eden Prairie Shopping Center. It provides convenient, one-stop shopping for licensing services for residents in one of the fastest growing parts of the county.
The newly remodeled service center at the Ridgedale Regional Center in Minnetonka also reopened earlier this year ... and is providing better, faster service to residents.
In the far northwestern corner of Hennepin County, the remodeled and expanded Rogers Library recently opened under the guidance of Commissioner Penny Steele. The library features more space for the children's area, additional reading and work space for patrons, and an expanded collection of books and other materials.
In Maple Grove, our new Service Center will feature the latest in technology and more service stations for the public. It will open this spring and has our first drive-through service window. Two other popular county facilities opened in 2004 - the expanded, multi-use Brookdale Regional Center and the new Eden Prairie Library.
As many of you know, I am a very strong believer in improving service and reducing costs by aggressively implementing new technology.
Hennepin ranked in the top 10 counties in the nation in the 2004 Digital Counties Survey ... according to the Center for Digital Government and the National Association of Counties.
And, we continue to expand "e-government" for greater customer convenience ... and a reduction in our transaction costs.
Hennepin residents, for example, can pay their property taxes on-line through a variety of electronic payment options ... and they are doing so in larger and larger numbers. Hennepin residents will soon be able to pay for licensing services with their credits cards ... beginning this spring.
The county is a leader in using Geographic Information Systems, or GIS . . .where computer mapping provides the tools to analyze and display location-based information.
The County Recorder's Office is creating a Web portal that dynamically links disparate databases together, using GIS as the main connector. This portal is due to be released in the late summer through NAZCA, a Minnesota company.
We will soon purchase and install business software for gathering, storing, analyzing and providing data -- or business intelligence. This technology tool provides information for consistent, accurate reporting of results to managers, policy makers and residents of the county too. This project is being phased in over a two-year period and we believe it will quickly pay for itself...as we will be able to make more decisions that are driven by data rather then anecdote.
The issue of a new Minnesota Twins' ballpark may come before the Legislature again but it is uncertain whether there will be any action this session.
A majority of the Hennepin County Board remains ready to partner with the City of Minneapolis to build a new ballpark -- in the historic Warehouse District of Minneapolis. The Hennepin County plan provides the most solid, dependable, financial base -- and the only one -- that can make the ballpark a reality quickly and at the lowest cost to the public.
Workplace dignity and respect
None of what Hennepin County does to build and maintain our quality of life would be possible without our most valued and important resource -- our 11,000 employees.
These last two years have been difficult for public employees and for those of us making the hard decisions. In order to help solve our budget problems, employees agreed to a zero percent cost of living adjustment for both 2004 and 2005, while health insurance premiums continued to rise. We've had some layoffs.
These kinds of sacrifices are stressful for our workforce, so Hennepin County and AFSCME together formed a committee a year ago to find ways to discuss issues and be engaged with one another -- with dignity and respect.
At Hennepin County, we take pride in improving the quality of life in our community every day. Our employees are dedicated to this mission and our residents expect nothing less. Hennepin County has a national reputation for innovation and doing things right. One reason we are here today is to acknowledge that the University of Minnesota takes equal pride in being considered one of the best in the nation.
When times get tougher and we are challenged in county government or at the University, the easy course would be to wring our hands, complain ... play only defense and just hope that things will get better.
That is not how we do things in Minnesota or at the University.
We will decide what is important, set priorities, innovate and Make tough decisions. And we will make the commitments and investments -- both private and public -- that have made this county, this region, this University, and this state better places than any where else in the Midwest.
Working together, we can accomplish even more.