The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State budget: a closer look

June 28, 2011

Shutdown: Most bets are off in Blue Earth County

MANKATO — Blue Earth County doesn’t know which state services would be maintained during a shutdown, but benefit checks, health care and food assistance seem like safe bets.

Likewise, the millions of dollars in state payments to area contractors who provide human services, from child placement to disability services, are seemingly essential.

But when it comes to services the county and its clients are relying on, County Administrator Bob Meyer isn’t taking any bets.

“I tend to be a very conservative person in these environments because I don’t know what they’re going to come up with,” he told the County Board Tuesday.

That was Meyer’s diplomatic way of saying he’s taking nothing for granted, not even that the state will eventually make payments retroactive to July 1 even if it shuts down.

Despite his glass-half-empty view, Meyer said it will be “business as usual” for the county until the middle of July or so, when the county will take another look at its plan if a shutdown lasts until then.

Perhaps it’s better to focus on the gray areas, on the services that might not be deemed essential by the courts.

Among them is upkeep on a state computer system that determines eligibility for various welfare programs.

“If that system is not available to us, quite frankly, we’d have a hard time processing applications for assistance,” Meyer said.

The system would probably stay up early into a shutdown, but there are questions about how long it would remain without state employees to monitor and maintain it.

Other, relatively minor, changes include certain county land-use permits, such as lakeshore modifications, that require the signoff of a state agency.

The county can cover short-term payments not made, at least payments destined for the county. The previously mentioned human services payments from the state to area contractors are both too large and use a system with which the county is unfamiliar.

Commissioner Drew Campbell pushed staff for specific costs associated with the shutdown, but those aren’t ready yet.

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