Ex-coordinator calls to refocus county

Published 10:47 am Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Jim Mulder, former executive director of the Association of Minnesota Counties, speaks to the Austin Rotary Club on the need for local government reform Monday. -- Trey Mewes/trey.mewes@austindailyherald.com

Among the biggest charges Jim Mulder makes about county government is it is almost certainly going to fail.

“Current government in Minnesota is unsustainable,” he told Austin Rotary Club members Monday.

Mulder, a former coordinator for McLeod County and former executive director of the Association of Minnesota Counties, is bringing his message of government reform to communities across the state in hope that public administrators and elected officials find ways to streamline government, save more money and increase the value of the taxpayer’s dollar for services they receive.

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“I’ve been working on, ‘How do we do it better?’” Mulder said.

He first thought of reducing the bureaucratic workload in county government a little more than 10 years ago as counties prepared for Y2K. County officials realized as they prepared for the worst that things needed to change and update.

“Things were changing,” he said. “The world had changed.”

He has plenty of examples from which to choose. One story he told rotary members involved a farmer’s request about his 10-acre plot of wetland in Jackson County. As Mulder tells it, seven organizations including the local soil and water conservation district, several boards, and representatives from the state Department of Agriculture came together for more than two hours not to decide what to do about the wetland, but to decide who would decide what to do.

“They still disagreed,” he said.

Though Mulder offered a few solutions, the more important idea is to get officials and administrators to start thinking about refocusing government and take a few risks to ensure better service for taxpayers.

The Southeast Minnesota Redesign Project is one such initiative Mulder touts. Twelve southeast counties have met over the past year and a half to share and regionalize Human Services, often one of the most expensive parts of a county’s budget.

Accenture, the financial group helping county officials study this project, recently projected the counties could reduce costs by about $29 million — a 7 to 9 percent expenditure reduction — over five years if the counties merge and switch to a regional model. In addition, county officials say Mower County could save up to $1 million in future expenditures.

“It could revolutionize human services in Minnesota,” Mulder said.

Mulder has toured the state since retiring several years ago to speak to service groups about redesigning government and ignoring geographic and structural boundaries to save more money. He was a candidate for Lieutenant Governor along Tom Horner for the Independent Party in 2010.

—Jason Schoonover contributed to this report.