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Viewpoint: City-county cooperation that saves money

Joe Atkins of Dakota Countyu (Courtesy of the Minnesota House of Representatives)

By Joe Atkins, Dakota County Commissioner District 4

Are you tired of elected officials who cannot seem to work together on anything?

The rancor, finger-pointing and negative campaign ads that fill our mailboxes and dominate our TV and radio airwaves these days leave many people deeply disappointed and dismayed.

Amidst this desert of divisiveness, however, Dakota County stands out as an oasis of cooperation.

For decades, city and county officials in Dakota County have worked together to get good things done. These cooperative efforts were formalized in 2003, with the formation of the Dakota County High Performance Partnership. In addition to saving millions in tax dollars over the years, the partnership enhanced the quality of city and county services, by measurably improving performance across a variety of metrics.

While there are more than a dozen examples of our successful city-county partnerships in Dakota County, below are a few representative examples:

Creation of the Dakota Communications Center. Ranked in the top 4 percent nationally for 911 response times, the DCC also saves local taxpayers roughly $1 million annually. The DCC became operational in 2007 and emerged as a result of a joint powers agreement between Dakota County, and the cities of Apple Valley, Burnsville, Eagan, Farmington, Hastings, Inver Grove Heights, Lakeville, Mendota Heights, Rosemount, South St. Paul and West St. Paul.

Sharing of Public Safety Equipment. Dakota County purchased 800 MHz radios for all local jurisdictions in the county in September 2007. Old radios were not only obsolete, they were not compliant with new federal requirements requiring 800 MHz equipment. The county purchases and maintains the equipment under a contract with Motorola. The cities pay a fee to offset the cost of the equipment and maintenance. By collectively purchasing the equipment, we ensure compatibility across multiple jurisdictions, which is acutely needed in times of crisis, as well as saving money for the county and each city.

Cooperation on information technology operations. In 2011, the Dakota County Broadband/High Speed Internet Committee was formed to determine how to supplement Dakota County's efforts to develop and use broadband and high-speed fiber networks across the county. The objectives were to provide high-speed networking to locations like schools, colleges, libraries, and city and county offices where it was not available, while also leveraging the network as an economic development tool. From this, the concept of the Dakota Broadband Board was envisioned. Early in 2018 the Dakota Broadband Board was formally created to complete and manage the I-Net (Institutional Network) and the C-Net (Commercial Network). The Board is comprised of elected officials from 11 member cities and Dakota County.

These successful city-county partnerships continue to this day. Next in line is the Dakota County Safety and Mental Health Alternative Response Training (SMART) Center, set to break ground in 2019.

The Dakota County SMART Center is an innovative, cost-effective solution to a growing national concern: First responders increasingly are the front-line response to people suffering mental health crises. The 35,000-square-foot, centrally-located SMART Center facility will host critical, state-required training by the Minnesota Crisis Intervention Team for first responders — law enforcement, firefighters and EMS. In addition, it will house the highly-effective Dakota County Electronic Crimes Unit, a partnership with 11 police departments; the Dakota County Drug Task Force, a partnership with 12 police departments; and the Dakota County Criminal Justice Network, which serves more than 40 agencies. This coordinated approach to the SMART Center, spearheaded by Dakota County Sheriff Tim Leslie and local law enforcement partners, will enhance performance while simultaneously saving money compared to each police department going it alone.

As we celebrate 15 years since the Dakota County High Performance Partnership kicked off, I want to thank all those who had a hand in starting it in 2003 as well as those who have helped enhance and carry it out over the years. These cooperative efforts between Dakota County and local cities have not only saved taxpayers millions of dollars, they have made us all more efficient and more effective in serving our residents.