2008 State of the County Address

Hennepin County Board Chair Randy Johnson

"The state of the county is sound but challenged"
Best Buy Headquarters, Richfield
April 10, 2008

Hennepin County Board Chair Randy Johnson said today that the state of county is “sound, but challenges that cannot be fully anticipated” loom in 2009 and beyond. Johnson delivered the state of the county address at Best Buy, Co., Inc., world headquarters in Richfield.

Johnson cited a “perfect storm” of financial conditions – recession, inflation, higher unemployment, and a 240-percent rise in home foreclosures in the county between 2005 and 2007. The economic downturn comes as demand is sharply rising for county services, and the state and federal governments are reducing funding.

The Federal Deficit Reduction Act, coupled with Minnesota’s forecast 2009 deficit, means more cuts to Hennepin government next year. The 2009 loss in federal funding is estimated at $18 million.

The result is Hennepin County will face a significant funding challenge next year that will involve “long-term strategies to deal with our structure as well as our costs,” Johnson said.

“Reductions in state and federal funding for mandated services over many years have forced local government to shift the burden to local property taxes,” Johnson said. “The property tax is reaching its limit to make up for what the state and federal government will no longer provide.”

Other drivers of change include:

The county’s population is aging, and the number of elderly citizens is expected to double by 2030, which will significantly affect publicly funded health and long-term care programs. In addition, some 18 percent of county employees are eligible to retire in the next four years, a potential loss of significant experience and knowledge.

The county’s population is increasingly diverse. Almost 70 percent of new immigrants to Minnesota live in Hennepin, and currently about one in 10 Hennepin residents was born in a foreign country. The county must continue to leverage technology for communication, online services, health care, and other purposes.

The cost of doing business is rising, from costs for fuel, services and products the county must purchase, to health insurance and pay for county employees. “We need to examine our standards for success, and appreciate that, frankly, good enough is sometimes the right approach when staff or funding are severely limited,” Johnson said. Hennepin County has made tough choices and difficult adjustments in the past to meet challenging times.

A measure of managing its resources well, Johnson said, is that Hennepin has maintained its triple-A credit rating, the best possible, for 33 consecutive years. Of the 3,100 counties in the nation, only 22 are rated triple-A by all three major rating agencies.

Johnson also acknowledged the many important partnerships Hennepin has with the private sector, academic institutions, nonprofits and faith communities.

Best Buy was recognized for the contributions it makes through its Children’s Foundation, including funding for the Minneapolis Central Library’s Best Buy Technology Center and “Homework Help” classes at other Hennepin libraries.

Best Buy has announced a new grant of $30,000 to help fund the “Guys Read” literacy initiative that Hennepin libraries promote. Also, Best Buy, Intermediate School District 287 and Hennepin County will undertake a collaboration to create a Career and Technical Center in the school district’s South Education Center in Richfield.

Commissioner Johnson represents the county’s District 5. The district includes the City of Richfield, which is celebrating its centennial this year with the slogan “From Farm to Future.” Once prosperous farmland, Richfield is now home to electronic giant Best Buy, the city’s largest employer.

Other highlights of Johnson’s address:

Hennepin County Medical Center is ranked one of American’s best hospitals for the 12th year running by the U.S. News and World Report.
The Hennepin-University of Minnesota partnership continues to connect researchers to real-world situations, and policymakers to research and best practices.

The county is committed to “Heading Home Hennepin,” a plan to end homelessness in the county by 2016.

Hennepin is a national leader in exploring alternative energy sources.

For information on Richfield’s centennial celebration go to – www.ci.richfield.mn.us