Board to get input on adding 2 membersWashington County’s population has grown so officials are debating whether the Board of Commissioners should do the same.
By: Jon Avise, Woodbury Bulletin
Washington County’s population has grown so officials are debating whether the Board of Commissioners should do the same.
The County Board will hold an open house next week to let the public weigh in on a possible expansion of the board from five to seven commissioners.
Following a state judicial redistricting panel’s release of redrawn electoral maps last month, a board workshop last Tuesday kicked off the county’s process of drawing new commissioner districts to account for population changes reflected in the 2010 census. Washington County saw a roughly 10 percent increase to more than 238,000 residents over the past decade.
The board, which must adopt its own new commissioner boundaries by May 1, set an April 20 deadline for approving a new map. Commissioners must OK new soil and water conservation commissioner districts by that date.
A public hearing set for March 13 is intended to gather public input on the county’s redistricting principles and to gauge interest in adding two commissioner seats to the County Board, even as there is not a majority of commissioners in support of board expansion.
“I think it’s fair to hold a public hearing on it regardless of where the board stands,” said Commissioner Gary Kriesel, whose District 3 stretches along the St. Croix River and includes Afton.
All five commissioners could face re-election in the fall and a majority of board members have said they prefer to remain a five-person commission. Board Chairman Dennis Hegberg, whose District 1 includes Forest Lake, said he doesn’t support the change – but he and other board members interviewed said they are open to hearing what the public has to say.
“I think as a board we don’t feel the need to go to seven,” he said, though Hegberg noted that Washington County is among the minority of Twin Cities counties with five board members.
Anoka, Dakota, Hennepin and Ramsey county voters each elect seven commissioners; Washington, Carver and Scott counties each elect five board members.
Commissioner Autumn Lehrke, who represents south Washington County in District 4, said it’s “important to take the public input into consideration,” but is not in favor of adding two more commissioners.
“This is a full-time job for me; I put in more than 40 hours-a-week,” Lehrke said. "We are expecting more from our staff — we're expecting them to do more with less – and I think we should do more with less.”
Commissioner Lisa Weik, whose District 5 covers roughly three-fourths of Woodbury, also said she does not support going to seven commissioners. Weik said Washington County’s growth over the past decade doesn’t warrant adding two members to the board -- especially, she said, considering the cost: at an annual salary of $52,713 per commissioner, that would add up to more than $105,000 per year in salaries alone.
Weik said if the county did decide to make the change the seven commissioners should take a lower salary, dividing the board’s current budget by seven.
“We would have less to do so we should be paid less,” she said. “I don’t see that it’s necessary with the current workload.”
Unless Kriesel hears something to change his mind the Stillwater commissioner said he, too, is against the change.
“I’m opposed to it,” Kriesel said. “But it doesn’t mean I couldn’t be convinced.”