Commissioners looking at 5-county model for Human Services merger

A project to merge the human services departments of 12 counties sustained significant blows with recent votes, but no knockout.

The five counties moving ahead, including Mower, are going back to the drawing board after at least six counties opted out of the formerly 12-county Southeastern Minnesota Human Services Redesign effort.

“It’s not dead yet. It might be on life-support, but it ain’t dead yet,” County Coordinator Craig Oscarson said.

Officials from the counties still involved — Mower, Freeborn, Waseca, Steel and Dodge — met last week to discuss options now that the 12-county model studied by consultant Accenture isn’t viable.

According to Oscarson, the five counties could host a meeting in September with all county commissioners to decide whether to move ahead.

Certain facets of the plan are easier now. With Olmsted — by far the largest of the 12 counties — opting out last Tuesday, Oscarson said, the governance structure would be simpler, with each county getting one vote. Mower County officials had expressed concerns Olmsted would gain too much control over the project.

Even though the 12-county model failed, Oscarson said, the project has revealed a willingness and need for counties to work together.

“It wasn’t in my opinion a waste of time yet,” he said.

However, a recent Star Tribune article said the attempt to build a human services “living laboratory” has shown just how hard it is to share power and resources when the counties are so different in size, culture, wealth and even views of the proper role of government.

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