'Lake Wobegon’ bill would merge central counties

  • Article by: PAUL WALSH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 24, 2009 - 9:28 PM

Legislators say the idea to combine Stearns and Benton counties and part of Sherburne County has been around for years.

Maybe someday, you'll be driving northwest of the Twin Cities and a sign along the highway will echo what you've heard for years from your radio: "Welcome to Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking and all the children are above average."

Several St. Cloud-area legislators on Tuesday announced legislation that calls for combining all of Stearns and Benton counties and the northern part of Sherburne County.

The bill is being written under the draft name "Lake Wobegon," the fictional town of Minnesota radio storyteller Garrison Keillor. Any eventual reformulated county would be given a permanent name by its residents.

Sen. Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud, and Reps. Larry Haws, DFL-St. Cloud, and Larry Hosch, DFL-St. Joseph, said that the bill is a starting point for a conversation about a possible merger and that no action is expected this year. The legislators have invited county officials to a meeting April 4 in St. Cloud to talk about streamlining and making government more efficient.

"I cannot remember a time in my St. Cloud time that this hasn't been discussed," Haws said.

The legislators could not document potential savings from a merger or how many jobs might be involved, saying they are cognizant of the potential for turf wars. The bill suggests a nine-member county board for the first two years and then a seven-member board after that.

Several Minnesota cities are spread over two counties, but St. Cloud is the only one in three counties, and one of only a few like that nationwide, St. Cloud officials say.

"Imagine you are in downtown St. Cloud and you are looking at the Civic Center and you are looking across the river," Clark said. "Standing in the Civic Center, you are in Stearns County. If you barely look left, you are looking at Benton County. If you barely look right, you are looking at Sherburne County."

There is at least one geographic use of the Lake Wobegon name in the region. The Lake Wobegon Trail is a 46-mile hike-and-bike pathway. It runs from St. Joseph to Osakis and also has an extension on the west side of Albany heading northeast to Holdingford and beyond.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482

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