2006 State of the County Address

Hennepin County Board Chair Randy Johnson

Bloomington Civic Plaza, Bloomington

Welcome

Thank you, Mayor Winstead and City Council members, for hosting us today . . . and thank you to the City of Bloomington staff for your gracious help in making arrangements.

Welcome to Hennepin's 12th annual State of the County report to the people.

We especially would like to recognize those who have run for and hold elected office. Would all of the local and other elected officials please stand so we can express our appreciation for your service and contributions to our communities . . .

For the record, Bloomington is the place where I got my start in county government ... at the Hennepin County maintenance shop at 82nd Street and Nicollet Avenue. I worked on a county road maintenance crew during my college summers in the 1960s . . . patching potholes and doing other highway labor. Bloomington, my hometown, was named in 1852 for the hometown of many of its settlers . . . Bloomington, Illinois . . . and was idyllically known as "Bloomington on the Minnesota."

Many of you know that I am a history buff, and here are some interesting historical facts about the second most-populous city in Hennepin County.

-- In 1858, the Town of Bloomington's organizational meeting was held . . . and the 24 people in attendance approved . . . after much debate . . . a $100 budget for the year.

-- The following year, residents voted in favor of levying $50 for town expenses and the purchase of a "road scraper" -- a horse-drawn piece of equipment used to level the dirt roads.

-- Bloomington changed from a township to a village form of government in 1953 . . . and approved the first traffic signal at the "very dangerous" intersection of 98th Street and Lyndale Avenue.

Today, Bloomington has 85,000 residents . . . and it is no longer a bedroom community. Nearly 110,000 people are employed in the city, many in jobs along the 494 corridor, including the Mall of America.

The Mall of America, which opened in 1992, continues to attract millions of visitors and shoppers from around the world.

Although not located in Bloomington, neighboring Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport is another major economic engine for our entire region, including the City of Bloomington. The airport served a record 37.7 million passengers last year. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport ranks ninth in the nation and 16th in the world in the number of passengers served annually.

And, of course, Bloomington is home to the popular "Spring Curbside Cleanup" -- often called the "world's largest scavenger hunt" -- held over five weekends in April and May.

Bloomington residents: It's time to start thinking about what to put on the curb . . . and what you want to take from your neighbor's curb. The first curbside pickup is Saturday, April 8.

Local governments working together

I selected Bloomington as the site of this year's State of the County Address to highlight the importance of local governments working together. Actions taken by cities and counties have the most direct daily impact on the lives of citizens -- we are the levels of government most accessible and closest to the people.

Hennepin County has long located many of our services out of the Government Center, out of downtown, and closer to where people live in Minneapolis and the suburbs.

The Bloomington Oxboro and Penn Lake libraries, Richfield's Augsburg Park Library, the Southdale Library and the Library Foundation of Hennepin County are among the sponsors of this year's "Day of the Child/Day of the Book" celebration. This event . . . which celebrates the Latin American tradition of honoring children and the importance of reading . . . will be April 29th at the Church of the Assumption Activity Center in Richfield. More than 400 children and adults participated last year.

The South Hennepin Recycling and Problem Waste Drop-off Center at 1400 West 96th Street serves all Hennepin County residents. More than 45,000 people dropped off household hazardous waste or other problem materials at the center last year. In addition, more than 4,500 people took materials from the free product center -- paints, pesticides, antifreeze, driveway sealer and other materials.

Hennepin County provides human services outreach at the Creekside Community Center at 9801 Penn Avenue South... and job counseling and training at the Work Force Center at 4220 West Old Shakopee Road.

Transit and Transportation

Hennepin has been a major player in the highly successful Hiawatha Light Rail Transit Line, which carries rail passengers between downtown Minneapolis, the International Airport and the Mall of America. Over the years, the county has invested $70 million for construction of the line, $14 million for right-of-way acquisition and engineering, and $6.3 million for the purchase of two additional trains.

Hennepin recently awarded a transit-oriented development grant to the Bloomington Central Station project. The 43-acre project, located near the Hiawatha LRT Line, will include more than 1,100 residential units, a 200-room hotel, office and retail, and a large open space. More that 85 percent of the project's condominiums already have been sold.

My colleague Peter McLaughlin is a leader in building LRT and the Hiawatha Line. In fact, Peter and his wife Nancy rode a light-rail train from their home in South Minneapolis to the Hennepin County Medical Center downtown when she started to go into labor in January. A few days later -- after their first child was born at HCMC -- all three of them rode the train home.

Peter will do almost anything to boost those ridership numbers!

On that subject, light-rail ridership is twice the original projections. Hear that, Minnesota Taxpayers' League, twice the projections.

In fact, perhaps our biggest problem is that parking at LRT stations is in short supply because of the high ridership. Metro Transit, the operator of the line, plans to begin construction of a five-level parking ramp on the south lot of the 28th Avenue Station in Bloomington. That will triple the number of parking spaces to nearly 1,500 when it opens in 2008. At the urging of the city and county, Metro Transit also plans to build a 34th Avenue light-rail station at American Boulevard.

Another transportation development is in neighboring Richfield, where city officials have approved a "roundabout" for the intersection at 66th Street and Portland Avenue. Roundabouts are much like the traffic circles in Washington, D.C., and some other East Coast and European cities-- although they were designed even before the automobile was invented. A roundabout works without a traffic signal by using circular, one-way traffic to move cars through an intersection. This alternative to a signal-controlled intersection with designated left-turn lanes is now in the planning phase.

Roundabouts reduce serious traffic accidents, and they eliminate the cost of signal equipment and electric energy costs to run them. Now we may need to do some education work on roundabouts . . .

The State of Hennepin County

Hennepin County is the most populous of Minnesota's 87 counties, with 1.1 million people, or about one quarter of the state's population. Depending on what we measure, Hennepin is about the 16th largest of our nation's 3,100 counties.

Hennepin County government provides a wide range of services and programs -- many of them mandated by the state and federal governments. Demand for almost every one of our services is growing.

We believe 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... to continue their education... to build businesses... and to help us attract the bright young people who are essential to our continuing prosperity.

This year's county budget is nearly $1.9 billion. About two-thirds of that goes to health and human services. The 2006 budget also provides:

  • New positions in the Sheriff's Office and Community Corrections Department to address public-safety issues.
  • Additional funding for human services and public safety, following significant state reductions in recent years.
  • Continued funding of paving and concrete-repair programs for county roads and highways.
  • Funds for affordable housing in Minneapolis and the suburbs.
  • And continued funding for Hennepin Community Works projects, including the Lowry Avenue Corridor redevelopment project in North Minneapolis.

We are ready to start work on the first phase of this neighborhood-revitalization project, which has been led by Commissioner Mark Stenglein.

We were able to do this... and more... and still have the lowest percentage increase in property taxes among metro-area counties - slightly under 4 percent.

Hennepin is one of only 19 counties -- of the 3,100 counties in the United States -- with a triple-A credit rating, the best possible, from all three top ratings agencies. Hennepin has received the top rating for 30 years in a row.

To quote Standard & Poor's, one of the rating agencies, Hennepin County "has a strong, deep and diverse economic base. The county government has demonstrated the ability to manage revenue fluctuations by making corresponding expenditure adjustments, as needed... and exhibits superior management performance in addressing capital needs while maintaining a manageable debt burden."

I really like that independent assessment of the county's financial and operational stability.

I also want to congratulate the City of Bloomington for receiving the top triple-A rating from all three agencies. Other cities in Hennepin County that have a top rating from at least one agency are Eden Prairie, Edina, Minneapolis, Minnetonka and Plymouth. That is an outstanding accomplishment for these cities that have a large economic base and the need to issue bonds for large capital projects. It also signals strong financial stability and sound management for all local governments in Hennepin County.

Hennepin County continues to improve its services to customers, taxpayers and citizens through integration of services, development of partnerships and innovative approaches to service delivery. To measure our progress on results and performance, we have implemented the use of what is called the "Balanced Scorecard." This management tool is being used by all departments to align their day-to-day operations with the longer term goals and strategic objectives of the county... using data to support decision making, planning and budgeting. In 2006 we will begin using the "Balanced Scorecard" to report progress on our results and performance internally. Our goal is to use this approach to report to the public in 2007 on our progress and performance.

Hennepin also is investing in "business intelligence" software that will provide staff the ability to access, analyze and report on information from a wide variety of sources and systems for more timely, accurate and effective decision-making.

What is the state of Hennepin County in 2006? The state of the county is very good... under the circumstances. We are financially healthy because we made tough decisions following major state budget cutbacks in 2003 and 2004. This year's budget continues to seek to control costs at all levels of county government.

A serious challenge, however, is the continuing reduction in funding for mandated programs from the state and federal governments. For example, the cost to the county for uncompensated indigent care at Hennepin County Medical Center rose 52 percent from 1999 to 2005 because of state and federal program reductions.

State and federal funding was reduced, but patients in need did not disappear.

Hennepin County is recognized as a national leader financially and in many program areas. But the big question is: 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?

I commend the congressmen who represent Hennepin County -- Jim Ramstad and Martin Sabo -- for voting against the Budget Reconciliation Bill, which passed in the U.S. House by only two votes last January. Proposed federal budget cuts mean that Hennepin County property taxpayers will have to pay tens of millions of dollars more each year for delivering services, many of which are mandated by the federal and state governments. These include services to vulnerable persons living in our community, who in past years most likely would have been in institutions: children in protective services, seriously mentally ill adults and children, and the developmentally disabled.

Hennepin County Medical Center

I am a passionate supporter of the Hennepin County Medical Center.

Two years ago, I talked about the changes needed at Hennepin County Medical Center to keep our outstanding public teaching hospital competitive in today's health-care market.

Nationally recognized for its top-notch patient care, teaching and research, HCMC is the backbone of the county health care system. For eight years in a row, it has been listed in the US News & World Report rankings of the top U.S. hospitals. Commissioner Mike Opat led our board to explore alternative governance models for the hospital after a 2003 strategic plan identified financial challenges because of increasing uncompensated care and decreasing government reimbursements.

Legislation enacted by the state last year and approved unanimously by the County Board in October provides for HCMC to become a new, hybrid, public benefit corporation. The County Board will retain final policy control, including approval of the budget and oversight of the hospital's safety-net mission.

Our goal is to continue the mission of HCMC to provide quality health care to all of our community, while also continuing to attract, train and retain the best medical talent in the world. And those doctors and other health professionals who choose to come here for their residencies and advanced training... once they make it through their second Minnesota winter... they tend to stay here, and we all benefit.

The proposed start date for the new public benefit corporation is January 1, 2007. A new board, comprised of people with experience in health care, finance and related fields, will be appointed to provide operational oversight. We are looking for dedicated people who would like to serve on this unpaid 13-member board. If you are interested, please contact my office or County Administrator Sandra Vargas.

Hennepin County/University of Minnesota partnership

We have been working for more than a year on a new collaborative effort between Hennepin County and the University of Minnesota. The goal is to connect the scholarship and research of the university with the real-life, hands-on laboratory that is Hennepin County.

The partnership... now in its second year ... is growing and thriving under the leadership of Commissioner Linda Koblick. The partnership's theme is "Connecting where it Counts."

The University initiated the Northside Partnership, creating an educational and research center on the Northside of Minneapolis, helping to fulfill its community-outreach mission. Hennepin County is a key partner in this effort... connecting in areas of early childhood education, children's mental health and economic development.

Addressing the area's transportation needs, Hennepin County is a partner in the University's "Access to Destinations" multi-year, research effort. "Access to Destinations" is developing new methods for evaluating the effectiveness of our transportation system. In particular, the county will learn more about travel times on county roadways and plan non-motorized travel options.

Hennepin County and the University are assessing existing research efforts to measure the community and economic impacts of the Hiawatha Light Rail Line. The goal is to better understand not just the travel impacts of light rail, but also how light rail affects the communities that surround it. The "U" and Hennepin also will explore potential joint research to support the development of other major transitways -- light rail, commuter rail and busways -- in the county.

Another joint project is the School Readiness Initiative... an effort to mobilize time, talent and resources to boost the number of children who enter kindergarten ready to learn. This initiative -- a partnership between the University's Center for Early Education and Development, Hennepin County, and the Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board -- provides training for all infant, toddler and pre-school child care providers... at no cost. Recent research shows significant, measurable literacy improvements from this initiative.

Numerous connections are being made between Hennepin County managers and university faculty member to share expertise... find ways to effectively engage students in practical applications of their studies... and explore joint research on the tough issues facing local government.

Kathie Doty is our lead staff person, jointly funded by the "U" and Hennepin to make those connections work. If you have ideas, please contact Kathie through Hennepin's webpage.

Making it easier for residents to do business with the county

We are trying to make it easier for residents to do business with Hennepin County government.

For years, the most frequent request of customers at the county's licensing service centers was... "I would like to pay for transactions with my credit card." But the credit card companies' fees for our accepting credit cards made that cost prohibitive.

The County Board, however, agreed to fund the initiative if a new revenue source could be developed to offset the costs. The result is that the service centers now sell advertising, which is displayed on large plasma screens... and we use the ad revenue to cover the cost of the credit card companies' fees to us.

If Hennepin County was a credit card company, I think we could call our solution . . . "priceless."

Hennepin's six service centers now accept MasterCard and Visa credit cards for the more than 40 services offered at the centers. Hennepin's service centers are the first in the state to accept credit cards.

Your property taxes also can be charged to your MasterCard or Visa card, but only if you pay a separate fee. So it may be a while before you can collect frequent flyer miles for charging your property taxes -- unless you are willing to pay the fee! For now anyway.

More and more residents are paying their property taxes online through a variety of electronic payment options. We are trying to make dealing with Hennepin more convenient by increasing the variety of "e-government" online services that are available 24/7.

Citizens also can visit the Hennepin County Web site - www.hennepin.us - to search for property information, find out where to vote, seek notice of road construction projects... and even report potholes on county roads.

Hennepin's Web site recently was named the best county website in the nation by two national organizations - the Center for Digital Government and the National Association of Government Webmasters.

Hennepin also is working on two new GIS - or Geographic Information System -- website applications.

One that will be online soon will allow people to locate all parks and their amenities in Hennepin County and eventually statewide. We will be able to search for a park by name . . . by park facilities . . . or by location. The park finder will feature aerial views and photos . . . as well as specific attributes, such as baseball fields, basketball courts, dog runs, picnic areas, barbecue grills and parking information.

The second GIS application will involve photo technology that will create full-color, three-dimensional, aerial images and geo-spatial information of land parcels throughout the county. When completed, residents and agencies will be able to conveniently locate images by either an address or geographic location. The new technology will provide a vastly expanded way to view property. Already interested in using the technology are the Sheriff's Office SWAT and 911 teams, the County Attorney's violent crimes unit, and municipal fire and police departments.

Our Taxpayer Services' Elections Division will take part in a possible pilot project with the state this fall to implement "electronic poll books" at selected precincts. On election day, voters will sign in on a laptop computer or electronic notepad, instead of a large, awkward paper book of registered voters. This approach has the potential of reducing waiting time to vote . . . and eliminating weeks and weeks of post-election data entry to update voter records.

Volunteers

Like it or not, federal and state income tax forms must be filed by April 17 -- about two weeks from now. Each year, Hennepin County Taxpayer Services and the City of Minneapolis provide office space in which American Association of Retired Persons volunteers assist seniors and low-income people with their tax returns. Last year, AARP volunteers at the Hennepin County Government Center and Minneapolis City Hall helped more than 5,000 people file their tax forms. Together, the county and city sites are the largest AARP income-tax assistance center in Minnesota . . . and probably the largest in the nation. Next year, we are looking to also provide this service in our suburban regional and resource libraries.

Libraries

Hennepin County citizens of all ages appreciate our award-winning suburban Library System.

Use of the county libraries is skyrocketing. Overall circulation is twice the national average. Residents checked out more than 12.7 million books, DVDs, compact discs and other materials from the 26 county libraries last year. . . . and nearly half of them were children's books.

Total circulation in 2005 was up a half million from the previous year . . . while there were 7.5 million visits to the library website -- up 2.2 million visits, or 41 percent, from 2004. And, 80,000 people signed up for new library cards in 2005.

Residents continually say that they want more computers installed at the libraries. For the convenience of residents, wireless Internet service already is available at all 26 libraries. (hold up "yucky" book)

One popular new program is called "Guys Read." Boys in grades four through eight get together with other guys at the libraries and talk about books. It will be offered this year in 22 of our libraries.

Last month, Commissioner Penny Steele and local officials celebrated the 75th anniversary of the St. Bonifacius Library, which has been newly renovated. The library now features a new children's area, additional Internet computer workstations, seating for studying and using laptops, and express checkout.

Homelessness/Affordable Housing

Hennepin County human services programs have long stressed the importance of prevention and early intervention, especially with at-risk families and children, while providing a safety net for residents.

In December, 70 service organizations came together at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis for the first local "Project Homeless Connect" - a one-stop-shop model of delivering services to the homeless championed by Commissioner Gail Dorfman. Housing experts, job counselors, mental-health workers, veteran services, dentists and even barbers were among those on hand to offer assistance and hope to those living on the margins. More than 400 people attended the first "Project Homeless Connect," sponsored locally by Hennepin County and the City of Minneapolis.

The second "Project Homeless Connect" earlier this month at the Minneapolis Convention Center also provided one-stop services to hundreds of people . . . and similar events are now scheduled quarterly.

The Family Homeless Prevention and Assistance Program saves county dollars while helping families who are at risk of losing housing . . . or are in shelters and need housing. Since the program began in 1993, Hennepin County's budget for homeless families has been cut in half . . . the average length of stay in emergency shelters has been reduced to 24 days for families . . . and the number of families seeking emergency shelter has dropped 63 percent.

The program emphasizes preventive steps which are often less expensive than resolving issues after housing is lost. County staff estimate that we spend an average of $500 per family to prevent homelessness . . . versus $5,000 in shelter costs and services to help the family regain housing after it has been lost.

Earlier this week, Hennepin County, led by County Commissioner Gail Dorfman, and the City of Minneapolis announced creation of the City-County Commission to End Homelessness. This group brings a broad range of experts to the table . . . from philanthropists to business leaders . . . from faith communities to the public sector. The commission's charge is an ambitious one: over the next 100 days to develop a 10-year plan to end homelessness.

Public Safety

Public safety, broadly defined, is "job one" for county government.

We are fortunate that Hennepin's public safety efforts are led by Sheriff Patrick D. McGowan . . . who was named National Sheriff of the Year by his colleagues in 2005 . . . the first time a Minnesota sheriff ever has won the prestigious award!

Sheriff McGowan and his office are leading the way with professional training and new technology. Both the county jail and the Sheriff's crime lab are nationally accredited . . . the only such county operation in the state with this distinction. The lab's crime scene unit - the deputies in the brown trucks at crime scenes processing evidence - is the first such unit in Minnesota to earn certification from the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors and the Laboratory Accreditation Board . . . and only the 13th in the entire nation.

With the threat of terrorism, the Sheriff's Homeland Security Unit continues to take a leadership role on the local and national levels. Sheriff McGowan is expanding his office's Weapons of Mass Destruction Tactical Response Team, and all licensed personnel are being trained in "NIMS" - the National Incident Management System. The training will provide them with the best information on how to respond to an emergency at the national, state or local level.

The county Emergency Preparedness Division also is working closely with local emergency managers and first responders on disaster planning, training and exercises.

In response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster last year, the Sheriff's Office promptly sent a communications team to Plaquemines (PLA-kuh- minz) Parish, southeast of New Orleans. This team established emergency communications, which allowed first responders in the area to communicate with one another . . . and assisted with local parish law enforcement at a crucial time.

Sheriff McGowan, I know that you have many good personal reasons to retire this year. I ask those of us who appreciate your leadership on tough issues to make it very clear to you - we want you back as our sheriff next year!

Hennepin County's Medical Examiner, Dr. Andrew Baker, was deployed to Louisiana to help with the collection and identification of bodies at the large, temporary morgue set up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The Medical Examiner's Office . . . staffed by Dr. Baker and other top forensic experts . . . is recognized nationally for its outstanding work.

Once largely a rural problem, the use of methamphetamine, or meth, is a growing concern in Hennepin County.

Under County Attorney Amy Klobuchar, meth cases charged in the county now exceed the number of felony marijuana and cocaine cases. In addition to criminal prosecution, the County Attorney's Office is working with other county departments on improved access to treatment through Drug Court, prevention and education efforts in schools, and training for police and child protection workers on meth's role in child abuse and neglect.

County Attorney Amy Klobuchar and her staff also continue to focus on aggressively prosecuting criminal offenders, especially career criminals and sex offenders. As a practicing attorney myself, I appreciate and value the highly professional civil counsel that Amy Klobuchar and her staff consistently provide to the County Board.

Even though we have moved to a state-run, state-funded court system, Hennepin County houses those courts. In fact, Hennepin District Court is our largest tenant! Chief Judge Lucy Wieland is responsible for ensuring the effective management and administration of the court - all 62 judges.

The District Court's nationally recognized self-help centers provide multi-lingual resources for litigants who are representing themselves. The centers have about 26,000 visits annually, focusing on types of cases in which legal representation is not readily available to low-income persons. District Court also is identifying and addressing specific needs with four specialty courts -- for mental health . . . domestic violence . . . drug-related offenses . . . and housing.

A potential threat to our residents is avian flu. Hennepin County is a recognized leader in emergency readiness . . . the only county in Minnesota that is certified as Public Health Ready by the National Association of City and County Health Officials. We have helped create the first and only outreach effort -- ECHO or Emergency and Community Health Outreach -- to communicate with non-English speaking residents about public health issues. And Hennepin is one of only eight local Advanced Practice Centers.

But, even with all our work and success, we know that a widespread emergency will bring more challenges than government can handle. That is why every person, every family and every business in the county has a role in preparing for emergencies, including a possible pandemic.

Start talking to your family about emergencies and what you would do. Assemble a disaster supply kit. And keep informed about what is happening.

Energy/environment initiatives

We need to renew our efforts to address the rapidly escalating energy costs for heating and cooling Hennepin County buildings and powering the county's fleet of vehicles.

Hennepin acquired its own energy center in downtown Minneapolis when we bought the Metropolitan Medical Center more than 15 years ago. The center provides energy for heating and cooling county and other buildings downtown. Our cost for natural gas and fuel oil has nearly tripled since 2002.

Hennepin County's waste-to-energy plant near downtown processes 1000 tons of solid waste each day, generating nearly 40 megawatts of renewable energy. Electricity generated by the plant is sold to Excel Energy under a contract through the year 2018... with the electrical revenue expected to be about eight million dollars this year.

I propose that next year we ask the Legislature to allow the waste-to-energy plant to operate at optimal full capacity to maximize the electricity we can generate at reasonable cost from the solid waste we already collect.

Hennepin County continues to explore alternative energy sources, including renewable fuels, flex-fuel and hybrid vehicles, and wind energy.

The county has collaborated with other public and private organizations, including the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Transportation, to experiment with the use of E-85, a mix of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline... in our vehicles.

Our Public Works fleet of trucks and other equipment currently uses B-20, a blend of 20 percent biofuel with 80 percent diesel fuel . . . and we are purchasing more hybrid vehicles.

It is amazing how the prospect of $3-per gallon or higher gasoline prices unleashes some creativity in dealing with energy resources! We know that is happening when even the President, who tried to make a living in the Texas oil fields, complains that "America is addicted to oil" and calls for more research on renewable energy!

Hennepin County, under the leadership of Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, created the Metropolitan Counties Energy Task Force seven years ago to provide a forum for local governments to discuss energy issues and consider possible joint actions.

This group is partnering with the Rural Minnesota Energy Board, which is comprised of more than 15 rural counties, to increase the development of wind power. This joint effort aims to accelerate development of a 120- to 150-megawatt, wind-energy project in southwestern Minnesota... helping meet the need for additional electricity in the Twin Cities, while fostering economic development in rural Minnesota.

Hennepin County is exploring use of wind turbines to produce energy for our Public Works Facility in Medina.

Hennepin also seeks to be a wise steward of the environment.

We provide grants for environmental assessments and clean-up of contaminated sites throughout Hennepin County where such activities have been hampered or delayed because of insufficient funding. Hennepin's Environmental Response Fund grants are used for soil and groundwater evaluation, asbestos and lead-paint assessment and abatement, and contaminated soil clean-up. We clean up other people's messes when there is no other way to do it.

How many of you are familiar with the concept "green roof?"

Last month, a majority of the County Board approved funds for a green roof demonstration project as part of the upcoming waterproofing and re-roofing project for the Minneapolis City Hall/Courthouse, which is jointly owned by the county and city.

The green roof project will consist of a roofing membrane covered with a landscaping system that will allow native plants to grow and thrive on the roof deck. The green roof and cisterns will control storm water runoff and reduce the urban heat-island effect. We thank our partner, Xcel Energy, for its substantial contribution to this green roof project.

The project will show what is possible when sustainable design is combined with corporate and civic responsibility.

And, as we look at the Courthouse green roof project, I am prepared to recommend that we resolve the 30-year problem of broken and slippery paving blocks on the north plaza of the Government Center by recognizing the plaza for what it is - a roof over a three-story parking garage and office space. I recommend that the plaza be a green roof, with native prairie grass and a space for public meetings, fountains, buskers and street food kiosks during the summer . . . and ice skating during the winter.

We can learn from Montreal and Vancouver, from Stockholm and from Minneapolis' sister city, Harbin, China - and make the Government Center plaza one of the great, vibrant, urban public spaces of the world. And, I think we can stop it from leaking too!

Ballpark

Finally, major league baseball.

One year ago, after months of negotiating led by Commissioner Opat, Hennepin County announced a historic partnership with the Minnesota Twins to build a new ballpark in the Minneapolis Warehouse District. The agreement was based on the lessons of previous legislative debates, and it followed the criteria approved by Governor Pawlenty's 2004 Stadium Screening Committee.

Unfortunately, the legislation authorizing the ballpark did not get approved during the 2005 session, and the plan expired at the end of the year. A majority of the Hennepin County Board still believes the state is better off with the Twins than without. We also believe that the franchise will not survive for the next generation of fans, playing in the corner of an indoor football stadium.

A majority of the County Board stand ready to negotiate a new agreement with the Twins -- for consideration during the 2006 session -- but we await assurances from the Governor and state legislative leaders that they will lead and authorize the County to build a new ballpark before we proceed.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Hennepin County has a national reputation for innovation and doing things right. Our employees are talented . . . and dedicated to improving the quality of life in our community every day. We can all be proud of the many good things going on in Hennepin County. This is a great place to raise a family... an good place to build a business . . . and one of the healthiest places in the nation. We are certainly doing some things right. Working together with our partners . . . including our cities and the University of Minnesota . . . we can accomplish even more.

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