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County governance – Our view: People should know all the county does

McLeod County hosted a group of students Tuesday, April 2, from the county’s schools interested in learning, among other things, the variety of services the county provides and ways it governs.
It was, no doubt, a good learning opportunity for the students, one most adults could learn from as well. The students likely left the McLeod County facilities with a far greater understanding of the services their county performs than many adults possess.
We’d be willing to bet most people don’t know the county is the main delivery agent for services mandated by the state and federal governments.
From the sheriff’s office and county jail to running elections throughout the county, overseeing zoning and land-use services in the county’s townships, the county provides far more services than most residents realize.
Land use is a challenging issue for county governance. People want the right to use the land they own as they wish. After all, it is their land. But without oversight, the land use of neighbors could become hodgepodge. McLeod County has the challenging task of making sure land uses in the townships remains coordinated and in the best long-term interest of the land and its residents. It can be thankless work.
Counties are the delivery agents for state-mandated human resource services. Of all the human services programming McLeod County operates, most of the programs the county offers are required.
McLeod County funds burials for people who can’t afford it. It handles the licensing of child care centers. The county runs a park system. It is required to offer some level of library services. The county runs a license center when you need your driver’s license renewed or your vehicle’s tabs updated. It helps fund the historical society.
It helps veterans access the benefits they’ve earned.
The list of mandated yet unfunded services the county provides is long and dates back decades. State lawmakers speak of reform yet almost never offer bills to return those mandates. Counties are creations of the state and mandates, funded and unfunded, come with the territory.
McLeod County has a public works department to take care of county roads and other infrastructure. This winter, McLeod County’s public works crews did good work keeping the county’s roads open for safe use by the motoring public. They work long hours, oftentimes in challenging conditions. There were times when the crews were pulled off the roads when the weather dictated it was better to take a break and regroup.
If you call 911 in an emergency, a county dispatcher will help. Besides county sheriff’s deputies and corrections officers working in the county jail, there are the state-mandated probation officers. The courts are housed in county facilities but funded through the state.
The point of this is McLeod County and Minnesota’s 86 other counties provide more services than most people imagine.
And best of all, the elected folks who make policy decisions are largely anonymous. If he’s not a friend, neighbor or distant relative, do you know who Rich Pohlmeier, Paul Wright or Ron Shimanski are? They perform the sometimes-thankless job of setting policy for county staff to follow.
Their work deserves your attention.

-jm