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Sen. Gretchen Hoffman meets with Wadena board

Minnesota State Senator Gretchen Hoffman, who represents Senate District 10 which includes Wadena County, part of Becker County, and Otter Tail County, spent about an hour with commissioners at their regular board meeting on Nov. 1.

Hoffman shared her impressions of the Minnesota Legislature, based on her first experiences as a legislator beginning in January 2011, and fielded questions from commissioners and several county department heads who attended the session.

Hoffman is a member of the Capital Investment, Health and Human Services, Judiciary and Public Safety, and Tax Committees of the Minnesota Senate.

Hoffman's opening remarks included topics like the new homestead market value credit, the MAGIC act, and the Health and Human Services budget.

She said that Republican majorities in both houses of the Minnesota Legislature wanted to change the tax laws because "the homestead credit program wasn't working. Tax relief should be to the homeowner, not to local government. It's a complicated program. [We want] to change the way state government funds anything. I'm all about local control. If I could lift every state mandate, I would."

Hoffman said, "A lot of my focus was the Health and Human Services budget - it's blowing out of proportion what the state can afford. Our elderly population will eclipse the K-12 population in the next ten years. Almost a million people in Minnesota are seeking services from the state. That's almost 20 percent of our population. It's unsustainable. Health care spending will eclipse K-12 spending in the next 10 years. Our [Republican] reforms had to do with how we forecast the budget. We want to move to zero-based budgeting."

Regarding her experiences this year during the legislative session, Hoffman said, "It's a different world in St. Paul. Once you get within two miles of the State Capitol, people see things differently. They need to get out into the world. And there's 201 opinions about how things should work."

Wadena County Social Services Director Paul Sailer asked Hoffman, "In the next biennium after this one, what do you see happening with the deficit? It's difficult for us at the local level to deal with constant deficits of the state of Minnesota."

Hoffman replied, "The state is already seeing savings because of the reforms we did. Governor Dayton took credit for some of our reforms. I've heard speculation that the next biennium will have a state deficit anywhere from $1.5 to $4 billion. I don't know how you set your budgets when you don't know what you're going to get."

Hoffman brought up the topic of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP), which includes psychological treatment as part of an offender's incarceration after conviction for a sex offense in the state criminal code. She said, "I read the report from the Legislative Auditor on the SOP and how dysfunctional it is. We've seen a real uptick in people admitted to that program. The projection of how many people will go into that program is huge. Out here maybe you don't deal with the sex offenders ..."

Auditor/Treasurer Char West interjected, "We currently have three registered sex offenders in our county, with 5 or 6 more possibly returning soon."

Commissioner Bill Stearns said, "Currently we're paying 10 percent of the cost of care of the sex offenders in prison. It's $300 a day, so we pay $30 a day, but it's going up to 25 percent, so we'll be paying $75 a day for each one. There's one offender that's a young man, probably will be incarcerated the rest of his life. That's about $1 million that will be spent on him."

Hoffman replied, "I think it costs $120,000 a year to keep someone in the program. The new SOP is now more efficient than the older one. Nondeterminate sentencing is being considered. All that money comes from the taxpayers. I don't see that the Minnesota Sex Offender Program is working, that they are rehabilitating these folks."

Sheriff Mike Carr asked Hoffman, "Where are we on STS [Sentenced to Service]?

Hoffman asked, "What's that?"

Carr explained, "These people who are serving time in our jail, they help our community through the STS program. They do a lot of services for our community. We had to cut back from crews working six days a week to five days a week."

Commissioner Lane Waldahl added, "This is a great public relations program for the state. The cities, counties, churches, anybody can get help from these crews. Before the tornado here people did not know what the STS crew was and what they did, but after the tornado they knew. We've got to keep that program going. It's unbelievable."

Hoffman asked, "Is it a grant?"

Carr replied, "It's done through Todd Wadena Community Corrections. It's a state grant. It's vitally important to the counties. It provides free services. We also have a juvenile crew. Our county parks, churches, cities, have all benefited from the services that STS provides. They bale cardboard at the Solid Waste Transfer Station."

Commissioner Rodney Bounds said, "It's a training ground for a lot of people that don't have any skills."

Hoffman said, "I'll keep my eye out for it."

Hoffman, Stearns and Waldahl argued about the effect of the new homestead market value credit, and how it would affect elderly taxpayers. Hoffman insisted that any property tax increase was not the fault of the state, but of the counties. She said, "These formulas [in the law] were made complex so nobody would understand them, so if would be difficult to reform them. ... I'm not going to be able to answer your question exactly."

Later in the conversation, Waldahl asked about the current status of the U.S. Highway 10 reconstruction project. "Have you heard anything about Highway 10 - finishing the four-lane?"

Hoffman answered, "MnDOT does things in their own timeframe."

Stearns said, "Wadena is not in the 10-year plan, or the 20-year plan."

Hoffman said, "I'll look into it."

Waldahl gave the State Senator his opinion about the 2011 legislative session. He told Hoffman, "When you go back, I hope you will take off the Republican hat, and the Democrats will take off the Democratic hats, and you will sit down and work together to get things done. I think you guys can do it down at the state."