County candidates weigh in on taxes, transportation, core servicesWhile Washington County Board incumbent commissioner Lisa Weik said rising state mandates and keeping up with local services are the biggest issues facing the county, her challenger Nancy Remakel said demographic changes and the increasing senior population are the most important concerns.
By: Riham Feshir, Woodbury Bulletin
While Washington County Board incumbent commissioner Lisa Weik said rising state mandates and keeping up with local services are the biggest issues facing the county, her challenger Nancy Remakel said demographic changes and the increasing senior population are the most important concerns.
The candidates for District 5, which represents most of Woodbury, participated in a forum hosted by the Woodbury Bulletin Thursday, Oct. 11, along with District 2 incumbent Bill Pulkrabek and his challenger Ted Bearth.
Economic development and keeping good quality of life in the county were on the minds of the candidates as they answered questions that covered a variety of topics.
Pulkrabek said one of the most important issues is taxes.
He said Washington County has the lowest rate in the metro area and he believes in keeping property taxes as low as possible.
When the candidates were asked to choose between raising the levy to keep the R.H. Stafford Library open in Woodbury, or to reduce hours to keep costs down, all had strong views on the subject.
“I’ve made a pledge under my watch that I would not raise taxes,” Bearth said, adding that the budget must have some wiggle room enough to keep library hours without raising the levy.
His opponent Pulkrabek said additional funds were poured in to restore library hours and that it was possible to find cuts in other areas.
“I don’t think it’s a zero-sum game,” he added.
Although restoring Sunday and Monday hours was not a permanent decision by the county board, it is sustainable in the future, Weik said.
A number of staff members are planning to retire, she added, which means others could be hired at much lower salaries.
Her challenger, Remakel, said her concern was that the library lost those two days for one year.
She suggested doing some long-range planning so the county doesn’t have to resort to cutting hours again. She also recommends raising taxes to offset operation costs.
“I consider it to be a bit short-sided for the library to be closed in the first place,” Remakel said.
Weik, on the other hand, said raising taxes would only “drive families out of their homes.”
In order to keep up with state mandates without sacrificing core services, she said the county needs to look for partnerships with other organizations.
Asking for flexibility from the state department of human services for example, such as services for vulnerable adults, would help the county keep its programs running without asking for taxpayer dollars, she added.
Pulkrabek said he would balance core services without resorting to raising the levy.
“There are items in our budget that could go away before I would even entertain the idea of raising taxes,” he said.
His challenger Bearth, a former Oakdale mayor, suggested cutting user fees that don’t affect the general population in order to balance the budget.
Since the Gateway Corridor Commission approved advancing a rapid bus-transit option along I-94 from St. Paul to Woodbury last Thursday, candidates were asked if they support that decision.
All were in favor of expanding transportation options in the county.
But Weik said commissioners still need to garner citizen input on that option.
She emphasized, though, that additional busing will only attract jobs to the area and improve the economic state of the city and county.
Remakel said she favors buses over building more lanes on the congested state highway.
“We have had great success with buses,” she said.
In closing, the candidates touched on their accomplishment in public service.
Pulkrabek encouraged voters to consider what the board has done so far and listed a number of accomplishments that include opening the library, the service center, environmental center and a park-and-ride.
Bearth said people in Woodbury may not recognize him but he is well-known in Oakdale and promised to be committed to the County Board.
Remakel, current Woodbury Planning Commission chair, listed her involvement and volunteer experience. The 34-year resident of Woodbury said her experience working on the City Council, library board and citizen task force groups will help her carry those visions forward.
Weik said she was “the right person at the right time” for the job, adding that she is the only candidate eligible to chair the board next year.
With her involvement at the state capitol and Washington D.C. she said she has become a strong voice for Woodbury at the state and national levels.