Hurst seeks Washington County fifth district positionCheryl Hurst feels like she’s been a bit busier than most candidates this election season. And with good reason.
By: Hank Long, Woodbury Bulletin
Cheryl Hurst feels like she’s been a bit busier than most candidates this election season. And with good reason.
The former three-term Woodbury City Council member is in the midst of her studies at University of Wisconsin, River Falls, and just recently returned from a “study abroad” experience in Taiwan.
“I feel like in September I was kind of playing catch up,” Hurst kidded, referring to the month of August she spent in Taiwan, where she taught students conversational English.
Hurst said she planned the trip long before she decided to run for Washington County Commissioner.
“It was the experience of a lifetime,” Hurst said. “It’s not something I would have given up, but I am glad to be back working (on the campaign).”
Hurst, 50, decided to run for county board early this summer, less than two years after she finished a 12-year stint serving the Woodbury City Council. She chose not to run for a fourth term to pursue her English studies major in college.
But with the untimely death of Washington County Commissioner Greg Orth, Hurst said she felt her experience would be beneficial to the county board.
“I just felt that I could put all those years of knowledge of sanitary sewer interceptors and watersheds and public safety and transportation to good use,” said Hurst, who added that she has volunteered on the past county commissioner campaigns for Dick Stafford and Orth.
Orth was elected in 2006 to replace Stafford, who chose not to run after a lengthy stint representing the Woodbury community on the board.
Earlier this year, Stafford was appointed to fill the position left vacant in January when Orth died from an accidental fall.
Hurst feels her relationship with officials at Woodbury City Hall would help her to serve on the county board.
“I think I have a common sense approach to government and that works well on the local and county level,” she said.
In addition to her studies and campaign, Hurst said she’s been busy keeping tabs on the youngest of her three children, her son Clayton, 17, who is a junior at Woodbury High School.
She also has a daughter, Vanessa, 20, who is attending school at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Her oldest daughter Natalie, 23, recently bought her first home in Woodbury.
Hurst has been married to husband John for 25 years.
Three examples of Hurst’s civic involvement: Parks/ Natural Resources/Open Space Citizens’ Committee that identified areas worth preserving and an active partner in Woodbury’s two open space referendums; the Central Park Citizens Committee beginning with its initial concept to its ribbon cutting ceremony; and Woodbury’s growth management plan to slow growth to a manageable level.
Q&A with Cheryl Hurst
This past spring, the Washington County Board voted 3-2 to approve a quarter-cent sales tax increase that goes toward a joint-powers group with four other counties. This sales tax amounts to $5 million annually and will fund the established five-county transportation improvement board (CTIB). Would you have voted for or against this quarter-cent sales tax increase and why?
The Twin Cities is anticipated to grow one million people by the year 2030 and with the I-35W Bridge collapse, a wake-up call was given to all lawmakers and residents in the state of Minnesota that our transportation system is a regional issue that is in dire need of immediate attention.
According to Transportation Alliance, we have 1,156 bridges that are structurally deficient and 423 bridges that are functionally obsolete. Prior to the 2008 Transportation funding bill, transportation funding frequently came behind other state expenditures, and yet, transportation infrastructure is directly linked to economic development and the state’s revenue stream. In addition, the less than adequate appropriations were squabbled over by the transportation and transit committees.
I support the quarter of a cent transit sales tax because of its long-term benefits. Now that metro transit has its own funding source, we can start work on comprehensive regional plans and solutions that will provide a positive environment for economic development — which is exactly the way to provide continuous tax relief to our residents.
Finally, another benefit is that it is a pay as you go system verses issuing bonds/debt, and we have burdened the next generation more than enough.
In the last few months, county commissioners have expressed concerns that Washington County was contributing more funding to CTIB than it was getting back for the foreseeable future. If elected, is there a circumstance involving this issue in which you would vote to withdraw from the CTIB and end the quarter-cent sales tax increase?
CTIB values Washington County’s participation and is amenable to working towards a more equitable relationship. For instance, the board is granting Washington County latitude by including express bus service from Forest Lake to Minneapolis and the I-94 transit feasibility study.
The bigger issue is that Washington County must think long term and regionally as an integrated and comprehensive transportation system is crucial to economic viability. There will be net loss years, but there will be others where Washington County will be a net winner as it receives more than it has contributed.
Most importantly, we must recognize healthy core cities — Minneapolis and St. Paul — mean healthy suburbs; we are all linked and must coordinate our infrastructures to be economically competitive on a national scale.
When it comes to transportation, counties generally have a large role in road improvement projects. How much of a role should county government have in relation to public transit?
Government has an obligation to think future tense in the necessary infrastructure systems that will be required to meet the needs of present and future residents, which includes transit. With the anticipated Metropolitan growth, which includes Washington County and Western Wisconsin, we would be negligent if we did not look beyond the car for transporting people. Statistics state the United States loses $78 billion in wasted time and fuel each year due to congestion; therefore, public transit plays a vital part when planning transportation systems.
Do you support the current county board's recently-approved preliminary budget and property tax levy that would result in a 4.9-percent increase in Washington County's share of property taxes for 2009?
One needs to recognize there is a reason it is called preliminary. The preliminary budget is staff’s best estimate for what it needs to meet the services it provides, and it allows citizens and board members to review it for comment. The first step in the process is to recognize our current county commissioners and staff have been doing an excellent job at providing quality, essential services with minimal impact — Washington County is ranked 86 out of 87 counties for lowest taxing rate in the state.
But can we do things smarter with less impact on resident taxpayers? Absolutely.
First, I think the county needs to establish an employee incentive program whereby the employees are motivated to question everything they do: “Am I doing everything as smart and efficiently as possible” and “Is what I am doing value added?”
Frequently the best ideas come form the ground up, verses a top down directive, so I believe the county needs to establish a reward system for those employees that suggest “quantifiable” solutions.” Also, addressing energy costs must be a multi-pronged approach and the county should consider working with state and municipal governments to collectively bid on purchases, whether it be for vehicle fuel, snow plows, etc., because buying in larger quantities reduces the price per item. Bottom line, I do not want to see critical county services cut.
In 2006, Washington County voters approved an "open space" referendum which enacted a special property tax levy worth $20 million to be dedicated to purchasing and preserving undeveloped land. How vital do you think preserving open space is to the future development of Washington County and why?
Thankfully, the city of Woodbury and Washington County passed their Open Space referendums when they did as I do not believe they would pass in today’s economic climate, and yet, open space is one of the assets our residents value most. It is what sets our community apart from others across the country.
Woodbury citizens know I have been an strong open space advocate for many years and should I be elected as Washington County Commissioner, voters can expect an experienced representative working on their behalf. I believe we need a collaborative effort to ensure there is coordination between communities and the county to create a comprehensive plan with migration corridors for enduring benefits to man and nature.
How important is it for the county board to have good working relationships with individual cities within the county? What are some county issues that are specific to Woodbury?
Over the years, I have watched the bonds between Washington County and the city of Woodbury grow and it first began when we decided to discontinue the city assessor’s office and began contracting with the county in the mid-1990s. With the increased rate of foreclosures, there is an even greater need for collaboration. The county informs both our police and code enforcement departments of foreclosed properties to ensure neighboring residents are not adversely affected.
More recently, Woodbury has decided to contract its Public Safety Dispatch with the county and relinquish its Board of Review. I have always been a strong advocate for economic development, which results in doing more with less impact on resident-taxpayers.
I believe the county needs to collaborate more with cities in the area of economic development in order to expand the revenue stream for each. Having an established, positive working relationship with the city of Woodbury is definitely one of my assets and I hope to build even stronger links with the county in order to be more cost effective for taxpayers.
County commissioners have voiced their displeasure with the state Legislature recently imposing unfunded mandates onto the county, such as instructing the county to expand the state courthouse in Stillwater and also to house state inmates in the county jail. What can the county do during the next state legislative session to deal with unfunded mandates?
All too often, local governmental officials will sit down with legislators and explain the financial ramifications of unfunded mandates, only to have state representatives pass along something else during the next legislative session. I really feel the time would be better spent if local governments educated their residents, so that citizens, alongside local officials, can plead the case — enough! Politicians listen to their constituents far better than they do to just other elected officials.