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Viewpoint: Dakota County financial check-up

Joe Atkins

Going to the dentist's office for a check-up always makes me nervous. Even though I brush and floss, I can't help but worry a little when the hygienist starts poking around. It is nice to get a good report at the end of the exam.

Likewise, as a Dakota County commissioner, I and many others at the county work hard throughout the year to ensure the county's financial health is sound, but, like the dentist visit, it is still nice to hear from independent auditors and outside rating agencies that we have a had a good fiscal check-up.

Below are highlights pointing to Dakota County's financial health, based on the most recent data.

Zero debt. Dakota County is debt-free. This is a rarity among Minnesota counties and nationwide. In fact, fewer than a dozen Minnesota counties are debt-free, and Dakota is Minnesota's only debt-free county among counties with a population of 30,000 people or more.

In the seven-county metropolitan area, the average county debt is over $250 million, with the average debt payment being $30.6 million per year. By not having any debt, Dakota County is able to avoid these annual debt payments, which would require either higher property taxes or less funding for other county services, or both.

AAA rating. Standard & Poor's Global Rating Service recently awarded Dakota County its best bond rating: AAA. In awarding Dakota County this rare AAA rating, S&P reviewed and praised our strong financial position, budget performance and fiscal management.

The upgrade to AAA means Dakota County's economic condition is the best of any county in Minnesota and rates better than 36 states as well as the U.S. government.

Lowest-taxed county in Minnesota. Dakota County residents pay $227 per person less in county property taxes on average than residents of other counties. This is the lowest per person property tax rate of any county in Minnesota, according to statewide tax records.

(Note that the figures above compare only the county portion of property taxes paid, not the property taxes paid to local cities and school districts, which vary widely.)

Excellence in financial reporting. Dakota County recently received the prestigious Comprehensive Annual Financial Reporting Award from the Government Finance Officers Association ... for the 29th year. This is a credit to our county fiscal staff. All of our county financial data is publicly available, and is also reviewed by an independent, outside auditor every year.

In sum, Dakota County's financial health is strong. Like a trip to the dentist, however, the county's financial health will only stay sound if we remain diligent and keep working at it. Thus, while it is nice to have a good check-up of our financial health and see good results, the hard work will not stop here. We must continually strive to find innovative ways to deliver exceptional services and results at a reasonable cost.

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