Scott County enjoying 'below-the-radar' success, administrator says

  • Article by: DAVID PETERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 3, 2013 - 2:13 PM

The Scott County administrator’s cheery end-of-the-year summary gets a mixed reception from a divided board.

Scott County is experiencing success on all kinds of levels that don’t always draw headlines but are vital nonetheless.

That was the case made by County Administrator Gary Shelton in an informal State of the County address to his own board — a group made up in part of skeptics. It drew a predictably mixed response.

Companies are establishing themselves within the county and expanding their footprint there far more than the headlines ever reflect, he said.

And quietly, he added, the county is getting its finances in order. The bond rating is up, though not as much as the county deserves, and reserves have finally reached the point where they’re in the zone the state recommends.

The county benefits from employee health costs that are “well below the vast majority of our peers,” he said, and stacks up reasonably well against other metro counties on spending and taxes.

“We’re 85th of 87 counties in per-capita spending statewide,” Shelton said, “and we have the third lowest tax rate in the metro.”

That’s after having been forced to offset nearly $17 million — 21 percent of the operating budget — in federal and state funding cuts and cost shifts, he said.

One graphic did concede that the county’s per-capita tax levy is second highest among the five Twin Cities counties that don’t contain major central cities, with all the social services and other costs that this implies.

And indeed, board Chairman Tom Wolf’s reaction was less than ecstatic. “We’re on the right track,” he said, “but there are a few things we could still tighten up.”

Three of the five board members have been critical of the county’s senior staff on various grounds, while the other two have been fans — notably commissioner Jon Ulrich, who declared, “Our success is astounding. ... We have a really good story to tell.”

One point no one questions: Despite a good deal of strife within the board, the county has made huge strides on transportation. Shelton offered a long list of road and transit improvements recently completed or in the offing, including major freeway intersections and new transit stations.

Although they are drawing increasingly open grumbling on account of the concessions being made to get them, he also touted a long list of gets by way of economic development, and credited in part a countywide effort to pull together rather than fight with one another.

“Our First Stop Shop is a unified plan that has set us apart,” Shelton said. “Several businesses have commented that our new cohesiveness makes us attractive — eases their process.”

When he touted the county’s success recently to a group in outstate Minnesota, he said, the audience of civic leaders “was surprised that this board agreed to a joint evening meeting [on the Datacard tax concessions request] with the ­Shakopee council on a non-board-meeting date — that a county board would reach out that far to support a city.”

Over 12 to 16 months, he said, “almost half a billion dollars worth of investment has been made, in companies moving or starting up or expanding. Just taking the low numbers, that’s 3,500 direct jobs, and 4,500 on the high end, not adding in spin­off jobs. If you did add them, you’re talking about probably 7,000 to 8,000 jobs over 12 months.”

Transportation investments by the county and cities have paved the way quite literally for much of this success, he said, “and success breeds success: other projects are coming.”

His talk can be viewed online at http://tinyurl.com/kor8wod. The presentation begins about an hour and 20 minutes into the meeting.

 

David Peterson • 952-746-3285

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