Similarities and differences: Statewide financial report shows Beltrami County follows state trends, but also has unique challenges
BEMIDJI—Health and human services, public safety and infrastructure were the three largest costs in nearly $90 million in expenses for Beltrami County in 2017.
A county finance report from the Minnesota Auditor's Office showed Beltrami as having $86.1 million in total expenditures and other financial costs, such as those related to bonding and debt, in 2017. Of those expenses, $28.5 million were for human services, $20.1 million were related to roads and $10.7 million was for public safety.
The three largest cost drivers at the county mirrored those for the entire state, according to the report. Minnesota county expenditures came to $7.36 billion in 2017, with 25.3 percent attributed to human services, 18.1 percent to roads and infrastructure and 17.2 percent toward public safety.
But while parallels exist between the county and state statistics, though, Beltrami County remains unique when it comes to the number of out-of-home placements in relation to its population.
Over the past decade, out-of-home placement numbers have steadily increased, creating a financial strain on the county's Health and Human Services Department. In 2017, the county had to transfer $3.025 million to the department in response to the shortfall from its general fund.
A few weeks ago, an analysis presented to the Beltrami County Board of showed the general fund balance could go negative by either 2022 or 2023, depending on the severity of out-of-home placement increases.
"When you look at a county map of Minnesota and compare out-of-home placement per capita, we're by far the largest in the state," County Administrator Kay Mack said. "It's a huge disparity, where other counties our size haven't been having to figure this out."
In response, county leaders have sought help from the state government to offset some of the financial burden. Bills supported by local legislators have been introduced in both chambers this year to provide direct relief related to out-of-home placements.
"During (Bemidji Day at the Capitol), legislators usually understand it's a difficult issue for a county to face," Mack said. "We've testified on five different occasions this year and the committee chairs have been sympathetic to Beltrami County."
On the revenue side, the auditor's report showed Beltrami County had a tax levy of $20.9 million. In total, when including sources such as intergovernmental revenues and special assessments, the county had $83.6 million in revenue.
Across the state, Minnesota counties reported revenues totaling $6.94 billion, an increase of $314.5 million or 4.7 percent over 2016. Between 2008 and 2017, total county revenues rose 24.4 percent, or 5.5 percent when adjusted for inflation.
In Cass County, the report showed total revenues coming to $56.7 million and expenditures at $55.3 million. Of the expenditure total, $17.03 million went to roads, $12.05 million was toward human services and $11.06 million was for public safety.
In Hubbard County, the state document listed the total revenue at $38.7 million and total expenditures at $40.7 million. The total expenditure for roads in 2017 was $15.3 million, while human services were $7.7 million and public safety was $5.6 million.