Help on the way for St. Louis County workers

St. Louis CountyCounty government is probably the most overlooked part of our democracy, and yet in Minnesota it’s the point of contact for the people who need the most help.

This includes the messy work of law enforcement, child protection and family welfare, social services and the very apparatus of humane treatment of our citizens. When county government is working, no one notices. When it’s not, people suffer.

In St. Louis County — the giant combination of Duluth, most of the Iron Range, and vast lightly populated forests and bogs — county government has struggled to keep up with increasing demand for services. This isn’t unusual for counties. Many across the state report the same difficulties. Case loads double or triple as staff turns over at monumental rates. Meanwhile, the sheriff’s department stretches to cover communities too broke to maintain police departments.

County government is also where the abstract concepts of economic conditions and state policy bear their true fruits. St. Louis County’s economy has not enjoyed the same prosperity as much of the state. Economic disparities between a shrinking middle class and a growing class of working poor are manifesting as social problems. This always happens at times like these, and state politics only promises to complicate the matter.

The Duluth News Tribune reports that today the St. Louis County Board will authorize the hiring of dozens of empty county positions. These jobs include 20 child protection workers, five welfare workers, and seven sheriff’s deputies, according to the John Myers story.

These aren’t new hires, so much as they are replacing long vacant positions held up during fiscal “rightsizing” and a near-constant state of turnover. The deputy positions will be focused on presence in schools.

We’d be well advised to follow these issues closely, particularly as many county commissioner positions are up in today’s primary and November’s general election. County government is where the rubber hits the road, and there is no way to spin a system that either works, or doesn’t.

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