Cuts leave counties with no good options
We were pleased to learn that of Minnesota's 87 counties, Olmsted County appears to be the best credit risk. It's among five counties that have a triple-A bond rating from Moody's Investors Service, but now the other four will have their ratings reviewed. Olmsted County faces no such scrutiny.
That's good news, as a top rating for a county means pretty much the same thing that it does for individuals who who have high credit scores; namely, credit is easier to obtain, and at a lower interest rate.
But then we learned in Wednesday's Post-Bulletin that the new state budget not only cut more than $2.5 million in state aid to the county, but it also nixed a grant for enhanced sex-offender "programming" and raised the county's share of the cost of civil commitments that keep sex offenders off the streets even after they've served their jail time. So now, officials say Olmsted County will have to find less-expensive, less-restrictive ways to monitor the behavior of convicted sex offenders.
Yikes. If the county that's arguably in the best fiscal shape in the state has to start cutting corners when dealing with sex offenders, then Minnesota is in big trouble.
We won't call upon Olmsted County to raise property taxes, especially at a time when far too many homeowners are struggling to pay their mortgages. Still, if a tax increase is the only way to guarantee that sexual predators stay behind locked doors for as long as possible, we think most people — especially those who have young children — would say, "Please, raise my taxes."
Counties across the state will be weighing such decisions in the coming months, as the effects of the state budget continue to trickle down. Less money for drug dependency treatment. Cuts in state funding for adult mental health care and a variety of services for families and children — programs that have a relatively low short-term cost and the potential for huge cost-savings down the road.
The ironic part of all this is that counties still are mandated to provide such services. So, with less money from the state, they'll have to choose between raising taxes or cutting their programs to the barest of minimums necessary to comply with state law. Furthermore, in counties with low populations and property values, it might not be an either/or choice. Property taxes will rise, even as the quality and quantity of county-provided services will decrease.
The quality of life for many Minnesotans is about to take a hit, and there's no relief in sight.