By Joe Atkins, Dakota County Commissioner, District 4

In a state known nationally for its quality of life, Movoto listed Dakota County among the eight best counties for quality of life in Minnesota. In a survey of county residents, 95 percent rated their quality of life in Dakota County highly. Our quality of life ratings were higher than the benchmark of comparable counties across the nation.

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This is among the data that shows how well we are doing. As stated in last week's column, data also shedding light on challenges we face.

This week I will focus on quality-of-life issues.

HEALTH. Dakota County ranks as the eighth best county in Minnesota for overall health factors, according to the 2018 County Health Rankings.

LIFE EXPECTANCY. In Dakota County, life expectancy is 83.6 years. This surpasses Hawaii, which ranks as the top state in the nation with an average life expectancy of 81.3 years, according to U.S. Census data.

Minnesota ranks second overall, with an average life expectancy of 81.1 years.

CRIME. While 2017 data is not yet available from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the 2016 metro average of reported violent crime is 191 offenses per 100,000 population. Dakota County is below this average, at 125 reported violent crimes per 100,000.

However, like so many areas across the country, Dakota County is being impacted by the opioid crisis and a resurgence of meth. The Dakota County Sheriff's Office responded to about 32,000 calls for service in 2017.

E-CRIMES. The caseload is growing for the Dakota County Electronic Crimes Unit, which investigates electronic crimes and gathers digital evidence for criminal cases, both in Dakota County and at the request of other Twin Cities-area law enforcement agencies. The task force worked about 330 cases in 2017, and the caseload has increased nearly 75 percent since the unit was launched in 2015.

PARKS, WOODS & OPEN SPACE. With over 16.6 acres of park space per 1,000 residents, Dakota County and local cities rank among the top jurisdictions in the nation for parks per capita, according to a 2017 study by the National Recreation and Park Association.

We are proud to be celebrating our 50th year of the Dakota County park system. Since its start, more than 5,600 acres have been set aside for recreation, learning and preservation in county parks, trails and greenways.

Our challenge remains striking a quality balance between active uses and preservation of the woods, wetlands and unpaved spaces that set Dakota County apart from so many other metro counties. We are taking steps to restore and manage natural spaces throughout the county.

Now in the first full year of our five-year Natural Resource Management System Plan, the plan is to restore 3,500 acres in parks and 180 acres within regional greenway corridors over the next five years.

VOLUNTEERS. In 2017 Dakota County saw tremendous growth in our volunteer programs, with more than 3,900 volunteers putting in over 40,000 total hours of service across 190 different opportunities, particularly in our parks and libraries. This saved Dakota County taxpayers almost $1 million dollars in 2017.

HOUSING & HOMELESSNESS. According to Zillow, the median home value in Dakota County is now $261,100, a jump of 6 percent over the past year. Countywide market values, including new construction, increased 8.3 percent to $48.08 billion.

Across the state, a combination of low vacancy rates, higher rents, and limited shelter space spiked the homeless rate. In Dakota County, according an annual survey called the Point in Time count, the number of unsheltered people jumped from 16 in 2012 and 19 in 2013 to 54 in 2014, 52 in 2015, and 63 in 2016, then declined to 59 in 2017, and 46 in 2018.

LIBRARIES. Among our highest-rated county services in resident surveys are our county libraries, which checked out more than 4 million items in 2017. There were more than 1.7 million in-person visits to libraries, with over 95,000 people attending programs and events, and nearly 6,500 hours volunteered.

SUMMARY. While the data shows Dakota County stacks up well, this is not a time to rest on our laurels. Great rankings last only as long as we continue to achieve great results, by addressing challenges like crime and congestion, meeting the needs of an aging population, and ensuring we continue to have an educated and productive workforce to retain, grow, and attract successful businesses.