Otter Tail County Officials Set 2019 Legislative Priorities
As the new legislative session in St. Paul begins county leaders are working to bring state support for county infrastructure projects, economic development and health and human services. This week the County Board of Commissioners outlined funding priorities and announced their 2019 legislative priorities.
The border-to-border build out of broadband infrastructure remains a priority as county officials ask for continued funding of the Broadband Development Grant Program. Rural counties like Otter Tail require quality internet services for business and economic growth. Rural counties also depend on a robust workforce. Projected trends from the state demographer indicate that Otter Tail County could have 3500 fewer people in the workforce by 2030. “That is a scary statistic,” said Board Chair, Doug Huebsch. “It doesn’t have to become a reality, however. By developing affordable housing and expanding child care opportunities, Otter Tail County has the ability to change those trend lines.” Several existing bills have already been introduced in St. Paul that aim to address these critical components for growing the rural economy.
Increasing chemical dependency and mental health issues continue to be top concerns for Otter Tail County leaders. “For the first time in history, people are more likely to die from a drug overdose than a car accident. Yet, in 2017, legislative changes were made that limit who can complete comprehensive chemical use assessments.” Deb Sjostrom, Otter Tail County Human Services Director, points out, “with a current shortage of Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselors, we have significant concerns that people in Otter Tail County and statewide will not have timely access to an assessment and subsequent treatment.”
Sjostrom will meet with legislators this term to advocate that the 2017 legislative changes are modified in order to guarantee statewide access to comprehensive chemical dependency assessments and treatment.
Law enforcement officers in Otter Tail County, including new Sheriff Barry Fitzgibbons, have stressed the need to address the mental health crisis in county jails and juvenile facilities. According to the National Association of Counties, twenty percent of jail inmates have a serious mental illness. County officials ask that the legislators support pilot projects and other efforts to manage mental health issues before people come in to the criminal justice system.
Otter Tail County’s abundant natural resources draw people to visit and relocate to the area. Protecting and enhancing these resources have always been a central focus for Otter Tail County. Leaders will meet with legislators to establish state support of long term, comprehensive infrastructure funding that includes new revenue for roads, bridges and transportation. Funding requests for three trail projects will be submitted this year. A preservation grant proposal to repair the Phelps Mill foundation is also underway.
Otter Tail County leaders convene on February 13th for “County Day at the Capital” and will be working with local state representatives to acquire funding and support for county-wide services, economic development, transportation and trails.