As we enter a new decade, Sherburne County will continue to build upon the great efforts and successes of years prior. In March 2019, the county completed the renovation of the government center; a 135,000-square-foot project designed to provide better customer service to our residents and businesses and accommodate the county’s anticipated population growth for the next 20 years.
The Sherburne County Board of Commissioners, led by 2019 Board Chair Tim Dolan, undertook several major initiatives during 2019, including: collaborating with the City of St. Cloud and Benton and Stearns counties on improving the St. Cloud Regional Airport; undertaking major road and bridge improvements; promoting new job creation and housing projects; and hiring a new county assessor, county administrator and first-ever parks director.
Another area of focus for the County Board in 2019 was the promotion and use of technology. Residents can use more self-service opportunities through our improved website; County Board meetings are now televised live and archived online; and more fiber is being laid for improved broadband service. Planned technology improvements in 2020 include more automated services in the driver’s license and recorder’s departments and utilization of drones, aerial imagery and GIS data by our public safety, land use and public works personnel.
The County Board continues to emphasize economic development efforts with several new or developing projects in the 2020 hopper. This is important as we develop a more diverse tax base, which includes healthy residential, agricultural, commercial and industrial sectors. In the event of an economic downturn, a broad tax base will help insulate the county from several of the more negative impacts.
And this effort is paying off – as we continue to see growth patterns in the county:
•8.7% percent population growth since 2010 (to 96,200).
•New housing permit growth: 140 in 2012 to 478 in 2018 (and on pace for approximately the same in 2019).
•Added $137 million in new construction to the 2020 tax base.
•Average residential taxable value has increased approximately 6.5% and the average commercial value has increased approximately 2.1%.
From a county levy standpoint, the approved 2020 county levy, while increasing by some 4.9% overall, reduces the effective tax rate for the sixth consecutive year; due to increases in our tax base from new construction and in residential and commercial values. Thus, if your home value remained flat, the county portion of your taxes would decrease. Compared to all 87 counties in the state, Sherburne County remains in the top 20% of the lowest levies on a per capita basis.
As we look forward to 2020, the county does face some significant opportunities and challenges. We have an aging workforce, like that of other private and public organizations, making recruitment and retention of talent, as well as robust training, development and succession planning for our existing employees a top priority. With some 67% of the county’s operating costs spent on personnel, we are ever watchful of increasing health care costs and wage and benefit increases. For instance, the county opened an employee health clinic in 2019 to help address many minor medical needs while reducing overall costs and absences.
In early December 2019 the County Board began an effort to update the county’s 5-year Strategic Plan. This, along with identifying our legislative priorities, will be a significant focus in 2020. Our Strategic Plan helps determine where we focus our limited resources and will guide many of the county’ major efforts for the next several years.
With the assistance of our partners and through the hard work of our elected local and state representatives, the county has benefited from such focused priorities. For example, we finally achieved a return to 2002 levels of state-provided County Program Aid: Shared state funds designed to ensure all Minnesotans receive equitable essential services. And we are now seeing final plans for the $157 million reconstruction of the Highway 169 corridor through Elk River, with construction to soon begin. 2019 also saw the first year of collection of a half cent local option sales tax, which is being used to address a significant backlog of local road and bridge projects.
In closing, Sherburne County is well positioned for continued growth and development. Our tagline “Opportunity Awaits” is an open invitation — for families and businesses, guests and visitors, and young and old — to experience Sherburne County and all it has to offer.
On behalf of the County Board and staff, I wish you a happy and prosperous 2020! -- Sherburne County Administrator Bruce Messelt