County Commission chair: Ag-related challenges impacting economy

March 28, 2018

This piece is presented by the Minnehaha County Economic Development Association.

Cindy Heiberger gets a broad view of Minnehaha County, from the needs of urban Sioux Falls to the challenges facing the county’s agriculture sector.

We caught up with the County Commission chair recently for her perspective on the year ahead.

How would you describe the overall economic health of Minnehaha County, both the positives and the challenges?

We are fortunate to have a growing county with a high level of involvement from community leaders. Minnehaha County is a great place to live, work and play, whether you want to live in a large or small community or on a farm. The economy has grown steadily over each year without the wild swings that states on the coasts have experienced. While growth is definitely positive, it also presents challenges. Agriculture is an economic driver for the county. As land and commodity prices cycle, they both impact residents and the county budget. Workforce development is a continuing challenge to ensure the workers are trained with skills to fill the jobs of today and tomorrow. Workforce affordable housing is needed to ensure workers have a place to live when they move their families to our communities.

What are some of the most common themes you’re hearing from constituents in communities outside Sioux Falls, and how are you addressing them?

Primary concerns of agriculture producers include affordability of land and the state of commodity prices. Increased desire for rural acreages reduces farmable land.  Agricultural producers want to continue to produce high-quality food sources while being good stewards of the environment. Changes to the state formula for property taxes continue to be a challenge. Just like residents in municipalities, rural residents want to see responsible management of tax dollars. Ninety-four percent of Minnehaha County general fund expenses are required by state law. Public safety expenses comprise 66 percent of the county general fund budget. As a commission, we try to make every dollar stretch as far as possible, so we can be efficient while providing services required by state statute.

What are some of the priorities on the commission’s agenda this year?

Good stewardship of county resources, investments in facilities and people, and a fiscally responsible budget are always top priorities. Additionally, the county will break ground on the jail expansion. Fortunately, the county was able to get an aa1 bond rating, which is one step below AAA. The county continues to implement much needed updates to public safety software as well as enterprise resource planning, or ERP, software, which manages property taxes, property valuations and financial record keeping. The ERP transition is long overdue and will help improve operational efficiency for the auditor, treasurer and equalization departments. Some of the current property tax software runs on systems that date back to the 1970s.

Many of the communities in Minnehaha County are in a growth mode. Are there ways county government can or might be able to work with them to support the needs associated with that?

Predictable, understandable planning and zoning ordinances for business owners, farmers and ranchers is important to help encourage future growth. A growing population requires efficiency in providing services, including issuing license plates, public safety, maintaining roads and elections.

The county continues to support highway infrastructure development so businesses can get products to market. Increased growth also has resulted in increased expenses responding to challenges related to alcohol consumption, incarceration or responding to mental illness. The County Commission is forward-looking and anticipates challenges before they arise rather than just be reactive.

If residents of the communities in Minnehaha County want to become more involved in their county, are there some ways they can do that?

Many say that the best form of government is the government that is closest to the people. County government is on the frontline. We are always looking for talented workers who are interested in serving the public and earning a paycheck at the same time. There are numerous volunteer opportunities as a first responder for emergency services or at the Siouxland Heritage Museums and Library. Applications to serve on various county-run boards are usually posted in November or December each year.

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County Commission chair: Ag-related challenges impacting economy

Cindy Heiberger gets a broad view of Minnehaha County, from the needs of urban Sioux Falls to the challenges facing the county’s agriculture sector.

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