District 4 County Commissioner: Low taxes, no debt, lots of achievements

Joe Atkins Dakota County Commissioner, District 4

The Dakota County Board voted this week for a 2018 budget that will result in Dakota County having the lowest county taxes in Minnesota. In addition, as we round out 2017, below are some key achievements and milestones for the year.

Debt-free: A year ago, the Dakota County Board paid off all of the county’s debt, and have remained debt-free in 2017. Being debt-free is a rare achievement at any level of government. The average county debt in the seven-county metro area is $204 million. 

Number one in low taxes: The Dakota County Board recently adopted a 2018 budget that will result in Dakota County having the lowest property taxes per person of any of Minnesota’s 87 counties.

The secret: What’s the secret to county property taxes that are about $400 less on average than other metro counties? Here are a few of the main reasons: 1) no longer needing to pay off debt; 2) careful county budgeting, including cuts in some areas; 3) cost-saving partnerships with local cities and other partners; 4) an increase in state aid will help pay for a bit more of the programs the state requires the county to provide; 5) efficient employees — we have the lowest number of employees per resident of any metro county; and, 6) a robust volunteer program.

Volunteers: Nearly $1 million worth of service has been donated by volunteers to Dakota County in 2017, helping in parks, libraries, and other areas. For example, over 600 parks volunteers have contributed more than 3,800 hours of service in 2017. 

$16.6 million for local road, bridge and transit needs: All of the nearly $17 million per year from a 1/4-cent sales tax collected in Dakota County will now stay here in Dakota County for local transportation projects. Previously, the 1/4-cent sales tax was placed in a regional account that was spent mostly on projects in Hennepin and Ramsey Counties. This new approach will keep the funds local.

Libraries: Upgrades are taking place at our busy libraries. Over four million materials were checked out from the county’s nine libraries in 2017, by more than 150,000 active library users.

No Vikings subsidy: I frequently get asked how much of a tax break the Minnesota Vikings received to convince them to build their new team headquarters in Dakota County. The answer is zero. 


Tackling homelessness: With low vacancy rates and higher rents across the county, parts of Dakota County are experiencing a spike in families and individuals who are experiencing homelessness. To address this, we have contracted for emergency shelter services again this winter, to be located at local churches. We are also working with the Dakota County CDA on ways to speed up housing applications for units in existing CDA-owned properties and with local cities for construction of additional workforce and supportive housing. To read more about the issue and the detailed plan, go to www.co.dakota.mn.us and enter “Shelter Leadership Work Group Report” in the search bar.

Parks and trails: With the assistance of numerous grants as well as support from users, a great park staff and over 600 volunteers, our county parks and trails are getting even better. For example, at Dakota County’s largest park – Lebanon Hills Park in Eagan – active restoration of 1,100 acres of prairie and forest is underway to tackle invasive species like buckthorn.

Inver Grove nature preserve: A multi-year effort came to fruition in June 2017 when Dakota County finalized a deal to acquire a permanent 108-acre conservation easement to preserve the Grannis property in Inver Grove Heights. This parcel includes the renowned Marcotte Lakes chain. The county gets the title to the property outright in seven years as part of the purchase. About $2.9 million for the purchase came from the state’s Outdoor Heritage Fund, which receives one-third of the “Legacy” sales taxes approved by voters in 2008.

Nationally recognized: Dakota County received several state and national awards in 2017, particularly for innovation and efficiency.


Drugs and crime: While crime rates remain modest in Dakota County, we have joined other counties in seeing an unfortunate resurgence of meth-related crimes. The county attorney also recommended Dakota County consider joining a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers, who allegedly misled physicians and the public for many years about the risks of opioids, resulting in significant costs to counties across the country.

Jobs: At 2.2 percent, Dakota County recently achieved its lowest unemployment rate this century, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

All in all, 2017 has been a good year. I want to thank voters for giving me the opportunity to serve on the Dakota County Board.

As always, I welcome questions, comments and concerns. Please email me at Joe.Atkins@co.dakota.mn.us or give me a call at (651) 438-4430.

– County Commissioner Joe Atkins represents Rosemount, Eagan and Inver Grove Heights on the Dakota County Board.

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