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Minnesota legislative auditor faults human services delivery

ST. PAUL - A legislative auditor's report says 15 Minnesota counties consistently rank toward the bottom in how they deliver human services and recommends that the state take charge of providing more of these services.

ST. PAUL - A legislative auditor's report says 15 Minnesota counties consistently rank toward the bottom in how they deliver human services and recommends that the state take charge of providing more of these services.

"It's a big problem," Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles said as the report was released Monday. "This involves a lot of money and people - people who need help."

Nobles' office named the following 15 counties: Big Stone, Clearwater, Cook, Cottonwood, Fillmore, Hennepin, Jackson, Kittson, Koochiching, Lac qui Parle, Lake of the Woods, Marshall, Traverse, Watonwan and Yellow Medicine.

County burdens

Most of the counties on the list are sparsely populated, situated along the state's borders. Hennepin is the only urban county on the list.

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The burdens on these counties include everything from placing neglected children in foster homes to finding care for the disabled. But Nobles said they've been hampered by a combination of high costs, high needs, poor transportation and overly complicated program structures.

The root of the problem, the report said, is that Minnesota uses its 87 counties to perform front-line administration for many human services, ranging from mental health and child-support enforcement to group housing and programs for the aging.

State relianceThe report said Minnesota is one of only 11 states that rely on counties this heavily, and it leads to unequal services and property tax burdens and 84 separate county administrative agencies. Only a handful of counties work together to jointly administer services, it pointed out.

The poorer the county, Nobles said, the harder a time it has providing services that are supposed to be equivalent statewide. On average, the report said, 40 percent of county property taxes now go to human services, making it a key factor in the tax burden.

Officials with the state Department of Human Services said they agreed with many of the findings, including the recommendations that some services be transferred to the state and that agencies consolidate across county lines.

InconsistenciesHowever, they disputed the finding that the state's approach to human services has resulted in inconsistencies, saying not enough analysis had been done to support that conclusion.

Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, chairwoman of the Legislative Audit Commission, said the report was of "enormous proportions" and would be "reviewed very seriously." Kathy Johnson, director of Kittson County social services and president of the Minnesota Association of County Social Service Administrators, said she doesn't expect any immediate changes in county social services there following the report. But, she said she expects the report will spur discussion among county officials.

Program supportJohnson said the MACSSA supports many of the reports' findings, but demographic indicators and percentage-based evaluation used to rank the counties may not accurately reflect program performance in sparsely populated counties.

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"It doesn't tell the whole story of programs," Johnson said. "It's kind of an invalid way to evaluate us because our case loads are so small."

On the Net: Office of the Legislative Auditor: www.auditor.leg.state.-

mn.us .

Herald Staff Writer Amanda Ricker contributed to this report.

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