How is Houston County governed?
Friday, June 20, 2014 7:40 AM
The governing body of Houston County is the board of commissioners. Commissioners are elected by district, serve four-year terms that are staggered among the board (not all elected the same year), and are responsible for the operation of the county and the delivery of county services. There are five commissioners. The board chair is rotated among the five commissioners each year.
It is the responsibility of the commissioners to oversee county activities ensuring that citizen concerns are met, federal and state requirements are fulfilled, and county operations are run smoothly.
County Commissioners are not the only elected officials in the county who are decision makers. Other elective offices of the county government include county attorney, county auditor, county treasurer, county recorder, and county sheriff. Although the county board approves a budget for these offices, commissioners have little to say in how these offices operate.
There are 87 counties in Minnesota and all but a handful have a county administrator or a county coordinator. Houston County has neither. This is like a school without a superintendent with all issues and concerns from the faculty, staff and parents going directly to the school board.
In the case of Houston County, the part time commissioners try and act as the school board and the superintendent. It makes for a rather cumbersome and sometime chaotic way for a county government to be managed. I am an advocate for a county administrator with funding coming from budget reductions in other departments where possible - including natural attrition of employees as they may retire or resign.
The county budget is a major responsibility of the commissioners. Some of the expenditures are mandated. Mandates are legal requirements imposed by the federal and state governments. Local government mandates are often passed without appropriate funding by state and federal lawmakers. In these cases, Houston County must pay the cost of implementing the mandate. Some examples of unfunded mandates are court appointed legal representation for those citizens who can't afford it, treatment of prisoners, public health, welfare and social services.
Of course the revenue to operate Houston County comes from you - the taxpayer. Houston County has increased taxes by over 4.1 million dollars in the last ten years (more than 4 percent a year). This cannot continue. I have not waivered from my commitment to properly manage your tax dollars I just need support from my fellow commissioners.
By Justin Zmyewski
Commissioner District #2