Hennepin County aims to do more in shutdown

Board asked county attorney to go to court to keep state funding for four services.

Hennepin County aims to add its voice to any judicial decision about services that remain available during a state government shutdown.

On Tuesday, County Board members asked County Attorney Mike Freeman to argue at a court hearing on Thursday for continued state funding of four services -- shelter for the homeless and mental health crisis services among them.

County officials say that the services were not included in a temporary funding lawsuit now before Ramsey County District Judge Kathleen Gearin.

In advance of Thursday's hearing, Attorney General Lori Swanson and Gov. Mark Dayton offered proposals about services they believe should be continued during a shutdown. Without a budget agreement, the state's authority to spend money expires on June 30 with the end of the fiscal year.

County Board Chair Mike Opat said on Tuesday that commissioners had no interest in taking sides in the political fight over a new state budget. But they agreed that the four services they seek to protect are essential to the safety of county residents and that people shouldn't be cut loose "while the politicking goes on," he said.

The state currently provides part of the funding for each of the four areas: homeless shelters, mental health crisis services, emergency case management and the county's call center. The last directs people to food shelves, battered women's shelters and other emergency programs.

Opat said that People Serving People and Catholic Charities are among the groups with which the county has contracts to provide shelter to homeless people. None has said they would close if state funding is halted on July 1, he said.

The County Board plans to review services that may cease with a state shutdown during a briefing Thursday. The meeting, which is open to the public, begins at 9:30 a.m. in the Government Center in downtown Minneapolis.

Anthony Lonetree • 612-673-4109

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