Impacts of state shutdown would vary in south Washington CountyA state government shutdown would have a varying impact on south Washington County residents, putting some people out of work and disrupting services for others.
By: Scott Wente and Mike Longaecker, South Washington County Bulletin
A state government shutdown would have a varying impact on south Washington County residents, putting some people out of work and disrupting services for others.
A shutdown, which would begin Friday if state leaders do not reach a budget deal, could send some state workers home without a paycheck, delay area transportation projects, slow or halt social services that are paid for by the state but carried out at the county level, and may force cities and counties to tap reserve funds to cover routine bills.
State parks likely would close, affecting plans for outdoors enthusiasts planning July 4 weekend activities at nearby Afton State Park and elsewhere.
Beyond limiting recreational activities, a shutdown could have costly and serious ramifications. State employees, including those who live in south Washington County, could be laid off if a judge classifies their job as non-essential.
State policymakers have been hearing from Minnesotans whose jobs are on the line if Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and the Republican-controlled Legislature do not agree on a way to fund state government after July 1.
“There’s a lot of people that wouldn’t be getting paid,” said Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, who like other elected officials is hearing from constituents ahead of a possible shutdown.
“It’s a terrible situation,” he added. “I would never want to be in it. I feel for the people that are concerned right now.”
Many services would be halted in a shutdown. Residents who rely on state assistance may see that delayed. Washington County officials say it is possible economic assistance for poor residents may not be distributed. That could include cash assistance programs, food support and government-subsidized health care programs, said County Administrator Jim Schug.
“Those would clearly be the most visible on an individual level,” Schug said.
The county also is concerned that its largest transportation project could be delayed. Construction on the Broadway Avenue project in Forest Lake may be halted in a shutdown because there would not be the state inspectors needed to sign off on work, Schug said. That could extend the construction timeline.
A road project in Cottage Grove also is in jeopardy.
City Administrator Ryan Schroeder said the West Point Douglas Road extension project planned for this summer could be affected because it is funded in part with state dollars.
Also affected could be Cottage Grove electrical inspections. The city contracts with the state for that service, but would find a way to continue conducting inspections in a shutdown, Schroeder said.
Cottage Grove does not receive LGA from the state, having lost the aid payments in a previous budget crisis in 2003. That means most other city operations would not be disrupted by a shutdown, Schroeder said.
“When everybody’s wringing their hands, we’re just kind of shrugging our shoulders,” he said.
The immediate impact would be minimal for the city of St. Paul Park, said City Administrator Kevin Walsh. The city is due to receive a state payment of about $100,000 in July, but that could be delayed if there are no state employees to process Local Government Aid payments to cities.
If the payment is delayed, St. Paul Park will use reserve funds to pay its bills, Walsh said.
The Broadway Avenue construction project in St. Paul Park would not be hurt by a state shutdown because there are no state dollars tied up in the work, Walsh said. He added that it is possible more construction workers will be sent to the St. Paul Park road project if street projects elsewhere are halted.
“We’re pretty lucky,” Walsh said of avoiding major problems due to a shutdown.
In a shutdown, St. Paul Park may see a delay in state response to annual reports it must submit on stormwater and commercial property tax issues, Walsh said.
Residents may see the effects of a shutdown in other ways.
Washington County will continue operating its license centers in Woodbury, Stillwater and Forest Lake. Most services will remain available, but there may be delays in processing certain transactions, said Kevin Corbid, the county’s Property Records and Taxpayer Services director.
For instance, drivers can renew their licenses, but they may not be processed until after a shutdown.
That would also be the case at the Bulletin License Center in Cottage Grove. Owner Gary Spooner said customers would be able to complete many of their transactions, including driver’s license applications and title transfers, but there could be a delay in processing. An expedited title processing service called Fast Track would not be available, Spooner said.
License tab renewals and birth, death and marriage licenses and certificates would remain available.
No license center will be able to process requests for Department of Natural Resources applications, such as for fishing licenses.
If Minnesota’s state parks are deemed non-essential, Afton State Park stands to lose thousands of visitors – depending on the length of a shutdown.
According to park data, Afton saw about 25,000 visitors in July during both 2010 and 2009. The park saw a total of 190,000 visitors in all of 2010, generating $275,000 in revenue.
A shutdown would bar hikers and campers from entering the park. Afton State Park has 28 backpack-accessible campsites, two group campgrounds, four camper cabins and one canoe site.
Assistant Park Manager Kris Backlund said all reservable campsites for the upcoming holiday weekend had been reserved. She said all campsites are generally full on summer weekends, depending on weather conditions.
All reservations directly impacted by an actual interruption in government services will be refunded after services are restored, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Through Thursday, cancellation penalties will be waived for reservations that include a night between June 30 and July 14.
The DNR has posted a “frequently asked questions” section on its homepage devoted to the possible shutdown.
The DNR had submitted several areas of its operations to the courts to be considered critical. That includes staff for nurseries, hatcheries, as well as conservation officers.
Sales of fishing and hunting licenses would likely be suspended in the event of a shutdown, according to the DNR. The department urged license-seekers to purchase any licenses before July 1 as a precaution.
The department’s website would also be inaccessible during a shutdown.
Jon Avise contributed to this story.