The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed Hennepin County to spend all but $2 million of its $10 million emergency fund, County Administrator David Hough told the board Tuesday.

And the remainder is expected to go quickly, he added.

Hough’s comments came just before the County Board voted unanimously in a virtual meeting to move another $3 million from the county’s contingency fund into operations.

Most of Hennepin County’s spending has gone toward acquiring protective equipment for front-line workers and isolating vulnerable homeless residents in hotels. The county currently is sheltering about 300 residents in four hotels in an effort to keep them from being infected or infecting others.

Hough, who has worked in the county for four decades, called the situation unprecedented. “We have some rough work ahead of us,” he said.

Commissioner Mike Opat said that at some point “very soon,” the county will need to transfer money from the general fund to cover the costs of managing the pandemic. That means property tax money would be used to cover the pandemic.

Further stressing county finances are the potential needs of the Hennepin County Medical Center, the county’s big safety-net hospital. The hospital is run by Hennepin Healthcare, but the county is on the hook for any shortfalls.

In 2019, Hennepin County paid $26 million to cover the cost of indigent care at HCMC. Opat said he could easily see the county receiving a bill for $50 million within the next few months.

“That’s bleak,” Opat said.

“I don’t disagree,” Hough responded.

Compounding the financial stress will be the county’s difficulty in raising money. County leaders acknowledged at the meeting that they won’t be able to raise money by increasing the property tax levy because residents are feeling the pain themselves.

Of Hennepin County’s $2.4 billion budget, $800 million comes from the property tax levy.


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