After the devastating floods in 2007, millions of dollars in repairs to county infrastructure such as roads and bridges were needed, and Winona County made the improvements before state aid money was received. Since that time, $4.6 million in flood assistance has been provided, money that county leaders have been eyeing as possible funds for long-term investment projects.
County administrators first presented a list of potential projects that the money could be used for months ago, including items from computer software upgrades to crime prevention programs. A spreadsheet showed commissioners how the money could be invested in a number of projects projected to produce savings over time, and administrators predicted expenses would turn to savings after four years and an expenditure of $1.5 million.
On Tuesday, commissioners looked again at the list of potential projects (see chart inside), and outgoing Chair Mena Kaehler asked that they be included on an upcoming agenda for a formal vote.
County Administrator Duane Hebert said prevention efforts identified in the chart included pre-trial services that would help avoid the high cost of keeping suspects of minor crimes in jail while they await trial, mainly in cases in which the suspect cannot afford bail. The prevention efforts item on the chart also includes funding for drug court, an alternative court process for nonviolent drug offenders currently funded through a grant. This item also includes funding for an offender reintegration program that has been proven in recent years to curb recidivism.
Hebert said the proposal for scanning and imaging of paper documents identified on the chart would speed up a process already underway. At the rate that the county is currently making paper documents digital, he said the work could take up to 25 years. Spending money to have an outside group assist the effort would reduce the time line to between five and seven years, he said.
The community services and criminal justice data integration proposal would further streamline paperwork for human services, public health and criminal justice programs, which Hebert said would make operations more efficient throughout the myriad processes in those departments.
Replacing highway department plows more frequently is anticipated to eventually save the county $90,000 annually in maintenance costs. “Succession planning” identified on the chart would ensure that skilled workers were available to replace outgoing or retiring staff members, said Hebert.
Hebert warned that some of the identified costs and savings were harder to calculate, while other projections were based on more concrete data.
Commissioner Marcia Ward said some of the items, such as crime prevention efforts and succession planning, didn’t show a savings that was clear enough. Those projects are less tangible, she said, and it would be harder to ensure they would save money. She said she only wanted to invest the flood funding in projects that included a more solid connection to hard numbers for financial savings, adding that it didn’t mean she didn’t support programs like drug court.
Commissioner Jim Pomeroy said that one of the board’s goals over the last several years was to pursue efforts that would keep the county on solid financial footing and reduce pressure on the property tax levy in future years. He said that preventative measures like drug court can help keep people out of jail and avoid children being placed outside of the home due to parental issues, both of which add up to major expenses for the county.
Placing a child outside of his or her home, added Hebert, can cost up to $600 a day, so avoiding those “out-of-home placements” can help the county avoid large expenses. Some of the possible savings with preventative programs can be hard to quantify, he said, adding he was confident the list of projects would save the county money.
The proposed long-term projects are expected to be on a future board agenda for a formal vote.