Dakota County's effective services, responsible use of tax dollars and upcoming park, library and transportation projects were among highlights of the 2019 State of the County event Wednesday, April 17 in Burnsville.
Board of Commissioners Chair Liz Workman and County Manager Matt Smith discussed the County's responsibilities, recent accomplishments and efforts to address key challenges before an audience of 175 community leaders and Chamber of Commerce members at the Ames Center. The event was hosted by the Apple Valley, Burnsville, Dakota County Regional, Hastings, Lakeville and River Heights Chambers of Commerce.
The County provides 225 different services, most of which are mandated by the state, and it carefully manages the property tax dollars collected to fund its operations. The County remains debt-free and now holds AAA bond ratings from Moody's and S&P. The County also maintains the metro area's lowest county property tax rate and it has the lowest county tax levy per capita in the state of Minnesota.
“We work hard to keep your taxes low," Workman said.
The County was successful during last year's Minnesota legislative session and is positioning itself for even more success during the 2019 session. It received state bonding dollars in 2018 to help fund the Safety and Mental Health Alternative Response Training (SMART) Center, and recently acquired property in Inver Grove Heights for the facility. This year, the County's legislative priorities include: housing and economic stability; natural resources stewardship and greenway pedestrian safety; transportation funding; and environmental protection.
Residents have told the County the quality of life here is high, and they applaud the services and amenities provided by the County, including parks and libraries.
Dakota County is currently remodeling two library locations – Heritage in Lakeville and Pleasant Hill in Hastings – and last fall it opened the renovated Galaxie Library in Apple Valley. This is also an exciting year for Dakota County Library because it's celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Park projects are also planned this year. Improvements will begin at Whitetail Woods Regional Park and Lake Byllesby Regional Park. In June, the County will celebrate completion of the Thompson Lake restoration at Thompson County Park.
Dakota County's economy remains strong with steady population growth and an unemployment rate that's lower than the state average. However, the County is working on ways to help address a workforce shortage, and the need for more workforce housing and transportation options for workers and other residents. It also is committed to addressing homelessness in Dakota County.
Dakota County is a safe place to live and work, Workman said. Still, there are areas of public safety concern, and the County is tackling these challenges as well.
County Attorney Jim Backstrom said illegal drug cases dominate prosecutors' caseloads. The County Attorney's Office is aggressively prosecuting the most serious and dangerous drug offenders and also finding ways to help nonviolent, chemically addicted drug offenders. That includes a new diversion program for low-level drug offenders.
“We're working hard to address these problems in a wide variety of ways," Backstrom said.
Sheriff Tim Leslie said the County's Electronic Crimes Unit plays an important role inlaw enforcement by analyzing cellphones and other devices used in criminal activity. The Electronic Crimes Unit analyzed nearly 600 devices last year.
Incidents involving people with mental illness continue to be a challenge for law enforcement, Leslie said. Officers are learning more about how to respond to people in a mental health crisis, and training at the SMART Center will take those efforts to the next level. Also, the sheriff noted, a mental health coordinator is helping to screen jail inmates and connect them to services they need.
“That has shown promise as well," he said.
Workman encouraged residents to provide their input and interact with the County on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Nextdoor and YouTube.