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Washington County sees turnovers, a few new challenges

  • Article by: KEVIN GILESand JIM ANDERSON
  • Star Tribune staff writers
  • November 9, 2012 - 6:34 PM

Two new members of the Washington County Board say they want to improve county government's collaboration with cities, particularly in matters of economic development.

In Tuesday's election, Hugo Mayor Fran Miron upset the county's longest-serving commissioner, Dennis Hegberg of Forest Lake. The other winner, former Oakdale Mayor Ted Bearth, defeated county board veteran and Oakdale resident Bill Pulkrabek.

"I've expressed some desire to create a more unified county board, not only with the county board but with the local communities," Miron said.

Bearth said that his and Miron's municipal experience "is going to be a benefit. I think Fran and I will both be responsive and interactive with the cities."

In another county board race in a district that includes most of Woodbury, the county's largest city, incumbent Lisa Weik defeated challenger Nancy Remakel. A fourth incumbent, Gary Kriesel, ran unopposed.

Kriesel said that Hegberg, a banker, deserved much of the credit for Washington County's strong financial management. He regretted seeing Hegberg leave the board but said both Miron and Bearth have track records as effective elected officials.

"I don't see any storm clouds on the horizon," he said.

Commissioners in 2013 will manage a proposed $173.4 million budget funded in part with an $86.5 million property tax levy for services such as roads and bridges, health and environment protection, human services and the Sheriff's Office.

Marc Hugunin, executive director of the nonprofit Friends of Washington County, said he thinks Miron and Bearth won't share the county board's "fetish" with having one of the lowest tax rates among metro counties. Instead, he said, they'll take a different approach.

"I think the board will have a little more of an open mind to consider the policy first before they pick a [budget] number," he said.

Weik, who will chair the county board in 2013, doesn't expect a new direction.

"I think we have been reacting to the economy and the recession," she said. "As a county board and individually, I think we have been responsive to our constitutents who have asked that we hold the line on property taxes."

City races

In Washington County, nine cities had contested races for mayor. Of seven incumbents, four were returned to office -- in Cottage Grove, Forest Lake, Grant and Newport -- and three were voted out, in Lake Elmo, Landfall and Oak Park Heights.

Voters in Birchwood Village and Lakeland picked Mary Wingfield and Bob Livingston, respectively, to replace mayors stepping down.

Here's how some of the races shook out (for complete results, go to elections.startribune.com/returns/index):

Cottage Grove: If the city election was a referendum on the much-disputed Public Safety/City Hall project completed last month, then it was vindication for Mayor Myron Bailey and incumbent City Council members Jen Peterson and Justin Olsen, who were all re-elected by wide margins.

Bailey, seeking his second term, won 53 percent of the vote and outpolled all three challengers he faced. He said that foes of the $15 million building represented a small but very vocal minority, and that the election outcome was affirmation that the city has been moving in the right direction under his leadership and that of Peterson and Olsen.

Voters rejected two ballot questions, one to build an outdoor aquatic center and another to expand and improve Hamlet Park. The improvements would have added about $6 a month to a typical property tax bill.

Bailey said the park improvements could still be put into place over a longer timeframe.

Economic development is still at the forefront, he added, with housing development and several other projects becoming reality as the economy improves.

• Woodbury: Two-term City Council members Amy Scoggins and Paul Rebholz faced three challengers but came away winners in one of the most stable local governments in the county.

"I think people in Woodbury are pretty satisfied with how the direction of things are going in Woodbury," said Scoggins, the leading vote-getter with 37 percent.

In the short term, the city is planning to remodel and expand its Bielenberg Sports Center. Looking ahead, plans are in the works for a major housing development in the southern part of the city. Scoggins said those issues will move quickly to the forefront in coming months.

• Oak Park Heights: With the construction of the St. Croix River bridge slated to begin soon, the city will look very different in four years and a new mayor will be in the thick of what will be a very complicated transition.

"I'm looking forward to it," said three-term City Council Member Mary McComber, who defeated incumbent Dave Beaudet.

Local businesses face long months of inconvenience from construction of the $676 million project, which also will involve realigning the city's major streets.

"We're going to need good communication and cooperation," McComber said. "We all need to work together."

• Lake Elmo: In the mayoral race, City Council Member Mike Pearson defeated incumbent Dean Johnston and one other challenger. Pearson said the St. Croix bridge will affect his city by adding traffic volume to Hwy. 36. As transit and other development issues loom, he wants to keep the focus on the community's interests.

"Almost everyone in Lake Elmo wants to keep Lake Elmo as it is," Pearson said.

• Landfall: With about 700 people, the lakeside mobile home community may be one of the county's smallest cities, but it has some big problems. Voters responded by ousting Mayor Greg "Flash" Feldbrugge and replacing him with Jim Dumer, who led a field of five candidates.

"I just ran a super-informative, super-clear campaign," said Dumer, a 19-year Landfall resident who won his first elected office. "It was definitely time for a change."

The county's Housing Authority censured the City Council in August after the city manager was fired, then put some of the city's decision-making in the hands of a property management company. City leaders also split over the issue of continuing to contract with Maplewood for police service.

"I think we can get things back under control," Dumer said.

jim.anderson@startribune.com • 651-925-5039

kgiles@startribune.com • 651-925-5037 Twitter: @stribgiles

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