Editor's note: The following is a press release.
Enhanced service at a reduced cost – it’s the illusive dream of every consumer. Who wouldn’t want to pay a little less to receive just a little bit more? For Dakota County and its largest cities, that concept has begun to evolve from dream to a new “HiPP” reality.
“Through the years, our residents have been holding government to higher standards, both of efficiency and of effectiveness,” said Rosemount Mayor Bill Droste. “We’ve found ways to collaborate with our neighbors, and make our tax dollars go farther. And we’re still finding new ways to do it.”
What’s so HiPP about Dakota County?
In 2004, local government leaders from across the County formed the Dakota County High Performance Partnership (HiPP). The idea was simple – identify areas where south-of-the-river neighboring communities could share resources, and then figure out a way to make it happen. Measuring success was key. If the results of a HiPP initiative saved the county and cities money – and provided a more efficient process for residents – it made the list.
"When HiPP first started in 2004, local governments throughout Dakota County were facing economic uncertainty – very similar to the uncertainty we have been facing the last several years,” said Dave Osberg, Hastings City Administrator and original HiPP member. “The need to cooperate and collaborate was strong, and remains the strong today.”
Over the next six years, these Dakota County ‘HiPP’-sters (comprised of mayors, city council members, county board members, and city and county administrators) focused on specific areas where consolidation seemed to make the most sense. Their biggest victory came early in the process when, in 2005, the Dakota Communications Center (DCC) gained countywide approval.
In 2007, the countywide 9-1-1 dispatch center began handling all of the county’s emergency calls, eliminating the need for individual dispatch centers in each city. The result was a streamlined process that consolidated individual cities’ needs for expensive head-end equipment, limited the number of radio towers needed to serve the County and saved cities an estimated $8 million in capital and operating expenses in its first five years.
Even though some HiPP projects such as the DCC thrived, success was not always a guarantee. Ideas such as consolidated Human Resources departments for Dakota County cities, or jointly-purchased health care plans ultimately proved not to be cost-effective, and were projected to be very difficult to administer.
“We have always stressed that looking into the possibilities of an idea and concluding that it isn’t beneficial is a totally acceptable outcome,” said Craig Ebeling, Burnsville City Manager and another original HiPP member. “Not every concept will be a winner.”
Staying HiPP into the Future
Between limited resources, turnover in political leadership, and at times, a plain-old resistance to change, the work of the HiPP group was never easy. By 2010, it was apparent that a “refocus of efforts” was needed to recapture some of the clarity and momentum that existed in the partnership’s earlier years. So, HiPP leaders decided to “reset” their areas of focus to represent a new set of government challenges.
Through surveys of county and the city employees, resident focus groups and town hall meetings, HiPP chose six new areas of focus, and developed a new set of goals for potential shared services. They are:
- E-Government Platforms – Explore opportunities for countywide shared software and technology services.
- Public Safety Facilities – Continue to develop shared fire training procedures and a solution to the existing shared training facility that is in need of repairs.
- Shared Technical Expertise – Determine ways in which we can share staff expertise throughout the County. Six ideas being examined further are volunteer coordination, energy/facility management, safety and OSHA compliance, grant writing, and additional shared purchasing.
- Dark Fiber – Research ways for the cities’ and County’s dark fiber (internet) networks to provide more functionality for government operations and to serve as a potential backbone system for a countywide broadband provider.
- Administrative Citations – Explore the feasibility of one local citation process with a common Administrative Law Judge.
- Training Programs –Continue to develop joint training opportunities for county and city employees, specifically in the area of Human Resources.
HiPP adopted these new focus areas in April 2011. Little more than a year later, some have already seen early success. In May, Dakota County will launch a new permitting system that will help standardize right-of-way permit applications and processes countywide. Once in place, a business needing to do work in the right-of-any Dakota County city will be able to access and pay for the permit in a single location.
The E-Government Platforms group is also exploring an automated solution for public meeting agendas and minutes that could be used to streamline and create consistency among public meetings countywide. Burnsville will be the first city to test the proposed solution later this year, and the group has already secured discount pricing for any other cities looking to jump on board.
“We are already seeing some early successes with the latest HiPP endeavors, and we are excited about the work that continues on potential projects,” said Eagan Mayor Mike Maguire. “But most of all, I have been impressed by the enthusiasm and the spirit of cooperation among all of the partners. Dakota County is a special place because of the way our local leaders work together.”
“The hope was that the cooperative spirit shown by local government in 2004 would continue, and it did,” said Osberg. “We all recognize the importance of exhibiting courageous and bold leadership and examining new methods to provide public service with our peers throughout the County."
Being HiPP is Simple
For Dakota County and its diverse communities – being HiPP is simple. It means cities and county working together to make things better. It means collaborating on innovative solutions to complex problems. It also means, enhancing service while reducing cost. Now that sounds like a dream come true.
The Dakota County HiPP steering committee currently consists of representatives from Dakota County, Apple Valley, Burnsville, Eagan, Farmington, Hampton, Hastings, Inver Grove Heights, Lakeville, Mendota Heights, Rosemount, South St. Paul, Sunfish Lake and West St. Paul.