OWATONNA — With the first half of the year already approaching the end, it’s time for local governments to already begin discussions about the upcoming budget season.

Last year, Steele County saw a large shift in funding for human services when the Minnesota Prairie County Alliance — or MNPrairie — removed funding for the Crisis Resource Center, Healthy Seniors, Semcac, Steele County Food Shelf, and Steele County Transitional Housing from its budget. While this move simply changed the way funding was being funneled to these organizations from the county, MNPrairie still received one of the largest increases that impacted the 2019 tax levy. The organization received a 14.5% — or $622,150 — increase, playing a large part in the 5% tax levy increase for the County.

After the commissioners approved the tax levy and budget in December, constituents began voicing concern over the MNPrairie budget, noting that with the rate of increases requested from MNPrairie that the organization will eventually double its budget within seven years.

The concerns did not fall on deaf ears, as the commissioners confirmed during their regular board meeting Tuesday that they, too, feel worried about the growing requests for funding from MNPrairie. During the meeting, the commissioners unanimously agreed to send a letter voicing these concerns to MNPrairie Executive Director Jane Hardwick.

“The continued large budget increases for MNPrairie have put a strain on the county levy as well as all other departmental budgets which are expected to ‘hold the line’ in order that MNPrairie might continue to grow its budget by double digits every year,” the letter reads. “Steele County can no longer accept these types of increases.”

In 2015, MNPrairie’s budget consisted of $7,679,399 from county levies of the areas they serve: Steele, Waseca, and Dodge. That first year, Steele County’s levy provided $3,612,424 of that funding. Today, Steele County’s tax levy provides $4,900,751 of the $10,838,960 that MNPrairie receives from the three counties.

In the letter, the county expresses understanding that human services come with budget stressors that may be beyond the control of the organizations. However, the commissioners assert that the budget process should include a viable look at ways to reduce the impact of those stressors in other areas. Within the letter, the county recommends that MNPrairie conducts an administrative review/audit to determine where cost reduction efficiencies can be implemented, conducts a review of the programs with recoverable revenues to determine what percentage are actually being recovered, and to continue to review the mandated versus optional programs and assess the true costs of the optional programs.

“It would be Steele County’s directive that the MNPrairie budget be contained to no more than a 3% increase for 2020, which would represent a $325,000 increase total for the counties,” the letter states.

The letter further notes that the an amendment for 2019 human services from MNPrairie has yet to be submitted to the commissioners for approval, which is based on time tracking data meeting the reasonable threshold. Because MNPrairie approved the 2019 budget with the presumed cost adjustments in the proposed amendment, the county is requesting that the amendment be processed as soon as possible so that the first quarter invoice can be paid.

Reach Reporter Annie Granlund at 444-2378 or Follow her on Twitter @OPPAnnie.

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