The bricks that built Fran Miron's farmhouse near Hugo were hauled 18 miles by horse and wagon from Stillwater, back in the days when most of Washington County was an empty place.
Miron has lived in that house almost all of his 58 years, as did three generations before him. His great-grandfather started the farm in 1887, the house was built in 1900, and even today Miron and his family milk dairy cattle and grow corn, soybeans and alfalfa on many of their 800 acres.
"When you create a level of pride in where you live and you create the quality of life that people want to be part of, and I think we did that in Hugo, there's something very gratifying about that," said Miron, one of two newcomers to join the Washington County Board last week.
Also sworn to duty was Ted Bearth of Oakdale, a longtime civic activist and, like Miron, a former city mayor. They have high regard for each other.
"He's generally committed to public service," Miron said of Bearth, 74, who defeated incumbent Bill Pulkrabek. "That's my attitude, too. I don't see Ted on an ego trip here. He's a seasoned individual who wants to give back to his community."
Bearth said of Miron: "I think we're quite similar. I think our backgrounds are similar, I think our philosophies are pretty close. How do we differ? I don't think we really do."
Both new commissioners bring a strong belief that Washington County should more vigorously explore partnerships with cities on mutual issues, such as roads and transportation. They also want more attention paid to economic development.
"What I noticed when I was out campaigning was a sort of disconnect between county government and local government," said Miron, who displaced longtime incumbent Dennis Hegberg in November.
Here's where the new commissioners stand on some key issues before the board:
Land and Water Legacy: In 2006, Washington County voters authorized the county to spend as much as $20 million to preserve open spaces and ensure water quality.
"The public has entrusted us to spend their money wisely, to get their money's worth," Bearth said. Should all land purchased be open to the public? "Except for extreme cases, I think it ought to be," he said.
Miron said that when he was mayor in Hugo, the city protected land from development through its long-range planning. "I think we have the same opportunity in Washington County, working with the communities and their various comprehensive plans," he said, "without creating that huge bonding effort and burdening the taxpayers with additional debt."
Public transit: Washington County became more aggressive in recent years after commissioners contended the Metropolitan Council had snubbed the county in its long-range vision of metrowide transit. That led to enactment of a quarter-cent sales tax in Washington County to help pay for transit development.
Bearth, who supports the current tax but not an increase of it, said public transit is important to the county's future. "I think it's going to pay dividends down the road," he said. "I'm a believer in Bus Rapid Transit but eventually light rail is coming. You can't stop it."
Miron favors a regional governing body to pay for transit planning, because "typically transit doesn't end at the borders of the county." The transit tax generates more money than the county budgets for road improvements, he said.
"We're falling way behind in maintaining our county roads," Miron said. "To me it's an issue of priority. Where do we focus the dollars to serve the most people and provide the most benefit?"
Libraries: The county's libraries have undergone deep budget cuts in recent years, leading to some closures of smaller branches and reduced hours at others. Last month, the County Board restored Monday hours at all branches and Sunday hours at the flagship library, the Stafford Library in Woodbury, through the school year.
Bearth supports library funding but he said technology is changing so fast that it's difficult to envision the role of libraries five years from now.
"I guess I can't visualize more bricks and mortar, but I can visualize getting more electronic usage out of libraries," he said. "It's going to be fun to watch now with the new hours going back into effect and the extent of public participation."
Miron said he was pleased to see the county restore funding to keep libraries open longer. More library expenditures might be necessary in the future as cities such as Hugo grow and residents want more services, he said. "I do think that to some extent libraries will be bricks and mortar because books are important to all of us," he said.
Solid waste: The County Board last fall renewed its contract with the company that processes garbage at a plant in Newport. Some county residents objected to the county's subsidy of trash haulers to prevent them from hauling to cheaper landfills out of state.
Environmental damage from landfill dumps in several Washington County cities is sufficient evidence that the county shouldn't open a new landfill or encourage hauling to an existing one, Bearth said. "You can either pay the haulers or you can pay for the environmental damage for not doing that," he said. The county shouldn't try to buy and run the processing plant, he said, because "that's growing government too much."
Miron, too, opposes landfills. "In my opinion we need to do the environmentally responsible thing. There is a mandate to treat our solid waste differently than we have in the past."
City/county partnerships: Both new commissioners, having been mayors, want to explore agreements that would end any duplicate services and find new areas of cooperation. Snowplowing might be an example of joint operations, Bearth said. And to Miron, who said he's heard from constituents that cities and the county don't work together enough, more creative thinking is needed. One strong example of a partnership already in place, he said, is how the Sheriff's Office contracts with various cities for policing.
• Economic development: Bearth and Miron favor more emphasis on improving the county's business climate.
"One of the real problems that we've faced in the last few years is declining market residential values with a lot of the foreclosures that occurred, the vacant houses out there," Miron said. "What has happened is that we've seen a shift of taxing residential property to commercial and industrial."
Bearth said the county needs to do its part to create a welcoming environment for growth, which will broaden the tax base as demands increase on the county for services. All the commissioners will have ideas about what should be done in the next several years, he said.
"I'm just anxious to get started," he said of his new job. "Let's see what we can do together."
Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037 Twitter: @stribgiles