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Viewpoint: Dakota County year in review

Joe Atkins

As 2018 winds to a close, it's a good time to share some highlights from this past year.

Nationally recognized for public safety. Out of 3,000 counties nationwide, Dakota County was singled out in July for the National Association of Counties' top award in public safety.

Protected kids and families. In 2018, the county assisted with over $40 million in child support collections as well as out-of-home placements, chemical health assessments, and approximately 50,000 intake and crisis calls.

Smart Center. The state Legislature awarded Dakota County a $6 million grant to help construct a regional law enforcement training center. Training will focus on crisis intervention and de-escalation, as well as best practices for interacting with individuals suffering mental illness.

Roads and bridges. 420 miles of county highways, 81 bridges and 134 traffic signals were maintained in 2018; more than two dozen snow and ice events were responded to; and construction of multiple road projects, 16 pavement overlays and the 2018 crack sealing program to extend pavement life and safety took place.

Remained debt free. In 2018, Dakota County remained the only metro county — and one of only a handful in the state — to have completely paid off all of its debt. This is also a rare accomplishment nationwide.

The lowest property taxes in Minnesota. Dakota County again had the lowest county property taxes per person in 2018 of any county in the state.

Parks, trails, woods, wetlands and open space. Over 1 million visits were made to Dakota County's 5,500-acre park system this year. The 1.8-mile extension of the Mississippi River Trail in southern Inver Grove Heights and Rosemount was paved. We received a $2.2 million grant from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council for habitat restoration, plus a prestigious $150,000 national grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, which will go toward restoring and enhancing nearly 900 acres of prairie and woodland habitat. And Dakota County continued working with willing landowners to permanently protect high-quality woodlands, wetlands and prairies. By seeking grants and collaborating with partners, as well as through landowner donations, the county has now permanently preserved more than 11,400 acres of land and 95 miles of shoreline valued at over $81.9 million.

Protecting clean water, air and land. Check out www.co.dakota.mn.us/Environment to see Dakota County's extensive efforts to protect our local environment, promote recycling and reduce landfilling, as well as save energy and conserve resources.

Great libraries got better. In 2018, more than 1.7 million residents visited nine Dakota County libraries, including three in the cities I represent, checking out 4.7 million materials. Updates to Dakota County's Galaxie Library were completed and it recently re-opened. Digital streaming service gave residents access to thousands of eBooks, movies, documentaries, music and more. Our Dakota County Library system was also the first library in Minnesota to be awarded a DHS Innovation Grant for training and development of more inclusive online and physical library environments for people with disabilities.

Sheltering homeless families. Dakota County worked with Matrix Services as well as local churches and volunteers to provide shelter for families and individuals experiencing homelessness. We are doing so again this winter.

Working with small businesses and job seekers. Dakota County partnered with local businesses, educational institutions, the state and others to assist with employment needs of both employers and job-seekers. The jobless rate in Dakota County dropped to 2 percent, compared to the statewide rate of 2.2 percent and the national rate of 3.7 percent.

Record-setting elections. In November, Minnesota again led the nation in voter turnout, at 64 percent. Dakota County was among the highest in the state, with nearly 80 percent of voters participating in the election.

Excellent employees. Dakota County's more than 1,800 employees do the work described above. The number of county employees is roughly equal to what it was in 2009. We have the lowest number of employees per resident of any metro county.

Volunteers did great work ... and saved all of us money. The efforts of county employees were aided by outstanding volunteers. Dakota County volunteers saved taxpayers roughly $1 million in 2018.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions on these or other issues. I can be reached at 651-438-4430 or at Joe.Atkins@co.dakota.mn.us.

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