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Nicollet County commissioners air concerns on ag, local costs, mental health

St. Peter Herald - 2/1/2018

Nicollet County commissioners and department heads talked out-of-home placement costs, mental health and agriculture during a meeting with state and federal representatives on Jan. 19.

Commissioners laid out one of their most pressing concerns, the cost of out-of-home placements for children.

"We've increased our budget about $500,000 for this," Commissioner James Stenson said. "The state doesn't help us with this. It's all local dollars."

And the county has fewer options, especially for residential institutions.

County Administrator Ryan Krosch said the out-of-home placement costs have increased from $1.1 million, where it had been pretty stable, to $1.8 million.

"Part of that could be the increase in requirements for child protection that were passed a couple of years ago," he said. "We have had to add staff, we have taken in more kids for child protection reasons. We are seeing a definite trend upward."

Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, said there's a lot of pressure on the Department of Human Services budget.

Rep. Clark Johnson, DFL-North Mankato, said he hears from schools, health care providers and counties that there are more challenges for children at home.

"It appears to be a more complex society," he said. "It's something that needs to be addressed from a positive standpoint."

Those who have mental health issues also need additional facilities, Krosch said.

"Deputies transport individuals all the way to Fargo who can't be in jail," he said. "There's a need for additional facilities across the state."

Probation Director Rich Molitor said the combination of drugs and mental illness makes it even more difficult to find the right course of action for people.

The Association of Minnesota Counties has made mental health capital funding a priority for this legislative session.

"I'm a little more optimistic about state support for mental health issues than for transportation," Frentz said.

Two years ago, Johnson was on the state's Mental Health Task Force. He said there were good recommendations which would have led to a continuum of care, but "a lot of those were ignored in the last session," he said.

Commissioner John Luepke encouraged the federal representatives to keep Mexico happy on the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"We're sending a lot of soybean meal to Mexico and pork products," he said. "Anything you can do to be nice to them, it's a positive for the Midwest."

Chuck Ackman, Southern Minnesota outreach director for Sen. Amy Klobuchar, said the senator knows the importance of NAFTA for Midwest soybeans, corn and pork.

Shawn Schloesser, field representative for Rep. Tim Walz, D-Mankato, said Walz's focus for the 2018 Farm Bill will be to help beginning farmers and ranchers. He'd like to find ways to help veterans and service members consider agriculture as their next career.

Ackman said Klobuchar's staff hear that there are several programs that work structurally, but aren't funded enough. Those include Conservation Reserve Program and the crop insurance program.

All of the legislative representatives want to push for broadband internet service, even to the most rural parts of Minnesota.

"It's one of the responsibilities of government to provide this infrastructure," Johnson said.

Bree Maki, Sen. Tina Smith'sSouthern Minnesota outreach coordinator, said that they're looking for hard-wired connections, not wi-fi hotspots.

Federal government funding builds out smaller cities, to the tune of $270 million in Minnesota in 2016, Ackman said.

In the past, he said, township supervisors wanted to talk about annexation. Now, they want to talk about broadband. For those in rural Minnesota, access to reliable broadband will allow use of drones and precision agriculture, which could limit the amount of chemicals used in agriculture.

"There's an argument to be made that the best thing you can do to improve water quality in rural Minnesota is giving farmers internet," Ackman said. "It's going to be a game changer."

 
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