Ramsey, Washington counties considering marriage?

  • Article by: JIM ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 5, 2010 - 8:23 PM

Discussions at an annual meeting of Ramsey and Washington counties included the idea of merging the two jurisdictions in 2022.

What would you call it? "Ramington"? "Washram"?

A discussion between Ramsey and Washington county commissioners at their annual joint meeting on Tuesday didn't get into nearly that much detail -- or snag on a long name debate -- but the conversation did get a little livelier at a suggestion that the two east-metro counties start efforts to merge by 2022.

If the analogy is two neighbors chatting over the back fence, Ramsey County Commissioner Jan Parker's idea is to take down the barrier altogether, and share the upkeep of the yards.

"There would be a big payoff in terms of reducing administrative duplication," Parker told the board members and other county officials. "We have so much in common."

The year 2022 would follow the next census, and redistricting of political jurisdictions, she said, making it a logical time to make what would be an unprecedented change.

Tony Bennett, also a Ramsey County commissioner, agreed that potential savings in tax dollars make the notion worth a serious look. "I think it's a great idea -- it should be studied," he said.

Washington County Commissioner Gary Kriesel, in the spirit of outside-the-box thinking, offered a different merger approach: "We were thinking about that, but we were thinking more in terms of annexing you!" he quipped.

Jests aside, Kriesel said the idea of a merger might sound good on paper, but the two counties share a long tradition of collaboration that has been mutually beneficial. Others agreed.

"A merger for the sake of a merger doesn't make sense to me," said Victoria Reinhardt, chairwoman of the Ramsey County Board. A hypothetical review of merging more than a dozen counties with Ramsey County found no cost savings or improvement of services, she said.

When Minnesota was a territory, there were nine large counties -- including Ramsey and Washington, but with very different boundaries. At statehood in 1858, there were 57 counties, and today there are 87.

In 2009, several St. Cloud-area legislators offered a bill to merge all of Stearns and Benton counties and the northern part of Sherburne County. The motive, like Parker's, was saving tax dollars.

"There's always a lot of resistance" to the idea of merging, Parker said, and she acknowledged there are other hurdles, as well.

The demographics of mostly urban and inner-ring suburban Ramsey County are different from suburban and rural Washington County. And Ramsey County has a higher per-capita rate of poverty that puts heavy demands on human services.

"There's not a lot in it for them," Parker said, referring to Washington County.

Jim Anderson • 651-735-0999

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