“The best ideas don’t come from [INSERT Washington, DC or state capitol HERE].  They come from [INSERT the folks back home, our communities, Main Street or the American people HERE].”

It’s one of the classic throwaway lines used by almost every pol at some point, so I won’t name names. 

But a big picture proposal being tried out in Kandiyohi County and the county seat of Willmar may yet extend the lifespan of that worn-out cliché. 

Consider it a small price for the refreshing candor offered by Frank Yanish, Mayor of Willmar, on city spending in his August online letter to constituents.  “I have proposed substantial cuts in travel allowances, memberships, dues, and professional services which include consultant fees.  I am also cutting other items I consider to be fluff…We have, (in my opinion) for too long been spending way too much time and money on these items, and I would appreciate your input.”

Harlan Madsen, Chairman of the Kandiyohi County Board, put it just as bluntly in a letter challenging Willmar to join the county in taking a new joint approach to providing local government services.

“We must examine and thoroughly evaluate the various opportunities to ensure the best value for our taxpayer dollars.  All local governments are facing a changing workforce, retirements, increased costs and demands coupled with stable to shrinking resources.  The status quo and simply maintaining is not appropriate nor realistic in an ever-changing world.  Our constituents deserve better than that and we must forge ahead with research, discussions and good planning to position ourselves as a vibrant regional center for our future.”

The first two dominoes to fall or merge could be the city and county assessor offices located just a few blocks apart, along with the separate housing redevelopment authorities.  A city-county work group will likely be formed to recommend more ways to join forces to eliminate duplication of effort and provide a more efficient,sustainable model for delivering local government services. 

But it’s not all talk. The west central Minnesota county and city already take a combined approach with a joint economic development commission, shared building inspector, some combined training and purchasing and other operations. 

“The big premise is you cannot continue to do business the same way with changing demographics, a changing economy and changing environment.  Business as usual as we’ve done for the last 100, 150 years is simply not sustainable,” said Madsen, whose letter received unanimous county board support.

Maybe there’s something to that old line about where the best ideas come from after all. 

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