Steele County officials will begin 2021 focusing on the same issue that consumed them for most of 2020: the COVID-19 pandemic.
The county is starting January with COVID-19 vaccines and a new round of state funding for businesses.
Steele County Public Health will be the lead agency for administering the COVID-19 vaccine, and County Administrator Scott Golberg said the county will be able to handle it.
“They’re doing great work there. We’re prepared and getting ready to do that,” he said.
The county received its first shipment of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 28 and has begun to vaccinate frontline essential workers.
The county is also getting ready to hand out the latest money it received from the state for COVID-19 relief. The county received $732,425 for businesses impacted by the pandemic and the details for applying are expected to be released in the coming week.
The staff is also bringing the lessons it learned from the pandemic last year into 2021, namely, that they can handle whatever comes their way, Golberg said.
The county tries to be proactive and it was difficult to be reactive in the first months of the pandemic as the situation evolved. But since things have settled into a “new norm” for county staff, they’ve begun to consider ways they can do things differently going forward, Golberg said. They’ve had to serve residents differently in the past year because of the pandemic, but they’ve also learned that some of the changes provided a more efficient and better service for the public, he said.
“We don’t want a crisis to go to waste. We want to learn from it,” he said.
Golberg said they’ll also be keeping an eye on legislators’ work on the state budget because it’s one of the key items for counties, who are tasked with implementing many of the programs mandated by the state. Some of those come with funding to implement them, but “they’re always subject to change,” he said. Additionally, the county also receives a county aid appropriation of about $2 million from the state that isn’t earmarked for any specific purpose. The state is projected to have a surplus in the current budget, but ultimately a budget shortfall in the next two-year budget.
As the county looks ahead to its next budget, officials want to create more of a financial plan for 2022. The county board creates and approves the budget every year, but the plan would consider strategies to minimize impacts to the property tax levy, Golberg said. He explained that the goal is to have options for the county board to consider to offset some of the more volatile revenue sources and lessen the impact of those changes.
They also hope to pick up where they left off on creating the county’s five-year strategic plan, Golberg said. The plan was put on hold at the start of the pandemic. It’s nearly done, but they need to finish the “vision” section of the plan.
In non-pandemic work, the county expects to complete its criminal justice/jail study and space master plan. The jail study, which is slated to be done in mid-2021, will consider space needs at the Detention Center while the space master plan is outlining how the county can better use all its properties for the next 20 years.
The Detention Center was originally constructed to serve the jail needs of surrounding counties as well as Steele County, but the inmate population rarely reaches the maximum capacity. The study will consider criminal justice trends and how to best use the space.
The space master plan is at the point now where county commissioners need to become comfortable with the overall recommendations and then the county departments will begin to work on the details, Golberg said.
The proposed plan calls for changes to buildings totaling $3.5 million in the first five years, work on buildings totaling $6.3 million in the next five years and changes totaling $6 million in the remaining years.
Goldberg expects some of the initial changes to the county’s Administration Buildings and Annex to begin in 2021. Some of the proposed changes in the first phase include creating a second mother’s room for women who are nursing, creating a lobby area for Veterans Services, adding service counters for some of the departments and creating a private conference room for Human Resources.