WILLMAR -- For the next six months Kandiyohi County will be studying the potential benefits of merging its public health board with Renville County's.
The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners has voted unanimously to study the proposal. Renville County hasn't yet formally voted on the issue, but commissioners there are reportedly on board with pursuing the study.
If such a merger is approved, it would pertain to the "governance" of public health in the two counties and not to the "organizational structure." Both counties would maintain their separate public health offices and staff, but a new joint board would be created to provide direction for operating the programs.
Currently, Kandiyohi County operates its own public health board, with the county commissioners also serving as members of the public health board.
But many counties in the state partner with neighboring counties to form a community public health board that serves the member counties.
The partnerships were the result of state legislation approved in 1976 that required public health boards to serve a community with a minimum population of 30,000, said Ann Stehn, director of Kandiyohi County Public Health.
There are currently 52 community health boards that operate as a legal entity under the Minnesota Department of Health.
In western Minnesota, for example, Countryside Public Health is made up of Big Stone, Chippewa, Lac qui Parle, Swift and Yellow Medicine counties.
Such coalitions continue to evolve, however, as counties search for regional commonalities and partnerships. About 20 counties are currently considering some kind of change with their governance or organizational structure, according to a document from the Health Department.
"We're not alone in looking at this," said Stehn during a presentation Tuesday.
Renville County and Redwood County had been operating a shared public health board but both gave notice to the Department of Health that they intend to dissolve the relationship by the end of 2012.
Stehn said Renville County has indicated a desire to have a governance relationship with Kandiyohi County. The two counties currently share staff for environmental health services.
Commissioner Harlan Madsen said Redwood and Renville counties decided to dissolve before there was any discussions with Kandiyohi County. There was "no pirating," he said.
If Kandiyohi and Renville counties did eventually move ahead with a partnership, Stehn said it would be easier for the counties to carry out cooperative agreements for sharing services that could take advantage of staffing strengths from both counties.
Having a multi-county governing board could increase operating efficiencies, be helpful with future national accreditation of standards and beneficial when applying for grants.
Stehn said a merger of the boards would increase the population size of the jurisdiction, which could be "good for the community."