Counties looking for a little magic

Published 9:59 am Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Help may soon be on the way for counties, but not quite as soon as many leaders hoped.

Jeff Spartz, executive director of the Association of Minnesota Counties, spoke to the county board Tuesday about recent changes AMC is promoting at the state.

Most notably, AMC is pushing the Magic Act, which allows counties to try providing services in a new way.

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“We think this is going to be a great opportunity when it’s passed for counties that are willing to do it,” Spartz said.

One previous idea in Mower County was to switch to a four-day work week for all county employees.

The bill, which stalled in a committee, has excited many county officials across the state. A few counties in northern Minnesota are like racehorses waiting to get going, according to Spartz.

But that doesn’t mean every project will work.

“We also recognize there will be failures,” Spartz said. “What we need to do is learn from why the experiment didn’t work.”

Spartz said a potential bill would have limitations: A county could only try one experiment at a time, and the state would limit the number of total experiments going on simultaneously.

Currently, counties in Minnesota operate under the Dillon Rule, which says counties can only do services mandated by the state. This would give counties more options.

AMC officials hope the Magic Act will pass during the next legislative session.

Close to cooperation?

Commissioners asked Spartz if AMC officials or county leaders can do anything to fix the polarization at the state.

He said AMC has to be cautious with opinions regarding many issues. If AMC officials get involved with issues like government funding, it can get tricky.

“If we get in the middle of it, we’re going to fall down in the meat grinder, too,” he said.

Still, Spartz said the issue should be the focus, not party lines.

“The problems are more important than the partisanship, and a lot of people seem to have forgotten that,” he said.

Commissioner Jerry Reinartz predicted partisanship could lead to big changes in future elections.

“I think the general public is getting fed up with that partisanship,” he said.