Updates on: Families First, Environmental Stewardship, Fighting Opioids, Voting Changes, and Road Construction

Agreement with Families First

The HRA (Olmsted County’s Housing Authority) will develop an agreement with Families First of Rochester to manage a building large enough to house up to twelve families.  The building was recently purchased by HRA.  The plan is to include staff on duty 24 hours/day.  Staffing will include a case worker.  Families First will provide opportunities to develop life-skills and skills necessary to move from transitional housing to permanent housing.  This will help Olmsted provide temporary housing for families which has been identified as one of the housing goals.  Families First will start with a few families and eventually build up to full capacity.  The estimate that Families First provided for the management cost is about $700,000.  Families First depends on contributions from businesses, philanthropic gifts, and donations from individuals to fund their services.

Climate Sustainability/Environmental Stewardship

Olmsted County will begin the process of engagement that focuses on specific areas of need to contribute to the county’s climate sustainability. The Board, on a 6-1 vote “sunsetted” the current Environmental Commission structure and adopted a new focused study structure.   The focused study will include people with expertise as well as residents.  Areas on which the county will first focus is making the waste to energy facility carbon neutral, capturing more energy from waste, and reducing the amount of material that enters the incinerators.  I support the county’s commitment and efforts to develop and implement practices that will insure a sustainable future.

More Environment and Climate Action

The Board committed $3,000,000 dollars for the Soil and Water department to develop a program to change farming practices in order to reduce nitrates seeping to our ground water and improving soil health.  I supported this action.  This program has been very successful and has garnered national attention.  I supported providing an additional $2,000,000 to expand this program.

$400,000 Per Year to Fight Opioids

Several years ago I supported Olmsted County in suing opioid manufacturers for the damage they have caused.  Eventually, all the counties in Minnesota joined in this lawsuit.  The result was a large monetary settlement.  Olmsted County will receive about $400,000 per year for 18 years.  As part of the settlement, Public Health will be the chief strategist on how to use the money.  As part of the settlement, a community advisory group will work with Public Health to formulate the strategy.  (The advisory group includes Law Enforcement, Veterans Services, Legal Services, Medical professionals, people with lived experiences of addition and recovery, Schools, Corrections, and others.)  Generally, the overall strategy falls into three categories: distribution of Naloxodone, Prevention, and Recovery from addiction.  Opioid overdoses have been increasing in Olmsted and opioid overdoses account for about 75% of the deaths caused from drug overdoses.  I support our Public Health department and the community advisory group in their effort to reduce the harmful effects of opioids.

Part of this money will be used to hire three additional Community Service Workers with expertise in addictive behavior to focus on reducing the reducing opioid deaths and increasing recovery from addiction.  The Community Service Worker program has been very successful in Olmsted.  These workers, with social worker background, work with the Sheriff’s Department and Rochester Police Department.  Currently, Olmsted has four Community Service Workers that focus on Mental Health problems.  I continue to support this very successful problem.

Voting Law Changes

A person with a Felony record who is not currently incarcerated will be allow to vote.

People who are 16 or 17 can register to vote if they will be 18 on or before Election Day.  Here is the Secretary of State web address to register to vote: https://mnvotes.sos.mn.gov/VoterRegistration/index

Homeless in Olmsted County

I support Olmsted’s goal that every Olmsted County resident has a place to call home.  To achieve this goal, I support emergency housing, transitional housing, permanent housing, and increasing the number of affordable homes.

  • Affordable Housing is defined as a resident paying no more than 30% of gross income for housing costs (must be income qualified for this support)
  • Olmsted receives funding from the Federal Government for 650 housing vouchers; tenants pay 30% of their income for rent.  This serves households/families at or below the 30% Area median Income
  • In addition, Olmsted’s HRA owns 109 public housing units to serve low-income families
  • Olmsted HRA assists families who qualify to stay in their home.  If their home is substandard, families or individuals may eligible to receive rehabilitation loans.  (The loans are paid back at the time of the sale of the property).  Many low-income seniors have qualified for these funds which have allowed them to stay in their homes.
  • In addition to Public Housing, HRA owns 170 other units of which 41 are single family homes.
  • Olmsted has applied for state housing money to build a 38 unit apartment building for low-income seniors
  • Olmsted HRA recent purchased a building for transitional housing.  Residents stay for up to 90 days and work on a housing plan with a case manager.
  • The Warming Shelter is operated ever day of the year.  It is managed by Catholic Charities.  The facility provides emergency shelter for adults 18 years and older.  Check in time is 8-10PM and must leave by 8AM the next morning.
  • The ECHO Center (Empowering Connections and Housing Outreach) is located at the Warming Shelter.  This center is staffed by Olmsted County Social Workers and Human Services Staff to meet with residents who use the warming shelter to establish a plan to move to permanent housing.
  • Encampments in Rochester:  Olmsted County does not have the authority to make someone move from an encampment.  Olmsted continues to work with the City of Rochester on an encampment policy. Olmsted County works with encampment individuals to find a housing solution; unfortunately, some encampment individuals refuse our services.
  • Homelessness also occurs with students in county schools.  Olmsted County has embedded two social works in Public Schools to assist students and their families who have housing instability.  In addition, these students and families are served by Child and Family Services and Public Health.

Yes, It’s True. The staff at the Olmsted County Recycling Center Saved a Man’s Life

On a Saturday in May a recycling center customer collapsed at the facility.  911 was called but in the meantime the staff used an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) to revive the man.  The man recovered from his heart episode.  This is an example of the great staff that works at Olmsted County.

Biochar: More Efforts on Climate Sustainability

Olmsted County has a problem with the huge number of trees dying from Ash Borer infection and other diseases.  These dead trees produce methane when they rot.  Methane is a gas that is detrimental to the environment.  I believe that the dead trees could be a source to improve the environment rather than a detriment to the environment.  This requires converting the dead wood into a product call biochar.  I supported an action to investigate a Biochar facility.   (Biochar is made by heating wood in a kiln; the wood does not burn but is changed to product similar to charcoal.  Biochar can be used to enhance low-productive soils and it will absorb carbon from the atmosphere)  At the end of May, Olmsted worked with the City of Rochester to test a Biochar Process.  We worked with a company focused on developing biochar, Clear Water Nitrate Reduction, which provided the kiln and expertise.  The first test provided a lot of information.  The information gained will be used make improvements to the process when a second test will be performed.

$60 Million for 14/44

I have supported Olmsted’s efforts over the past years to garner state funds to build an interchange at Highway 14 and County Road 44.  Through the efforts of our staff and testimony from our County Board, Olmsted was awarded $60,000,000 from the state’s Corridors of Commerce funds.  Right of Way acquisition and design for this project has already begun.  Olmsted is responsible for a local cost share to complete this project.

Improvement to Valley High Road

Improvement to Valley High Road and County 44 (60th Ave) will be completed this summer.  60th Avenue, located west of Rochester, is the first leg of another circle drive.  When the interchange at 14/44 is completed, this improvement will alleviate the over crowded traffic on West Circle drive (County Road 22).

ARPA Money Committed to Legacy Projects

Olmsted received about thirty million dollars in ARPA funds (American Rescue Plan Act).  Twenty million dollars have already been committed included ten million which was given to the Housing Coalition to increase the number of low-income houses and units.  Recently, the Board of Commission allocated the last $11,300,000 to the following initiatives.

  • $4.9 million to for the development of affordable home ownership
  • $2 million for groundwater protection and soil health program
  • $4.4 million for development of Graham Park exhibition center

I supported the use of the ARPA dollars for these initiatives.  The Board of Commissioners Agreed that ARPA funds should be used to create a legacy that will have an impact on future generations.  The use of these funds to protect our groundwater and soil health is an example of creating a legacy that will have a great impact on the future of environmental sustainability.  Increasing housing stock; making improvements to Graham Park are further actions that will impact and enhance the future of quality of life for Olmsted County.

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