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UPDATED: Commissioners rip Pulkrabek budget plan

Washington County Board members criticized fellow Commissioner Bill Pulkrabek for his proposal to cut $834,000 in county spending next year, calling it ill-timed and arbitrary.

Pulkrabek released the list Tuesday, just two weeks ahead of a final budget vote. It includes eliminating a subsidy to the Meals on Wheels program, privatizing management of the Historic Courthouse in Stillwater and wiping out county funding of a workforce center used by unemployed and poor residents.

The plan did not sit well with commissioners, who ripped apart Pulkrabek's list during a heated county board workshop. One commissioner continued the criticism on the Internet this morning.

Commissioner Gary Kriesel, whose district includes Afton, was the most vocal critic of Pulkrabek. He said anyone can come up with ways to save tax dollars, but it is too late to toss a budget-cutting plan on county staff.

"This is emotional garbage as far as I'm concerned," Kriesel said during an unusually testy exchange with Pulkrabek. He also said Pulkrabek should have proposed the spending cuts earlier this year and erred by giving the list to a reporter before discussing it with fellow commissioners.

"Where's your list, Gary?" Pulkrabek shot back.

The cuts are an attempt to balance the county budget without raising the property tax levy, Pulkrabek said, and his opposition to the spending areas he targeted is not new.

None of the other four commissioners said they would support Pulkrabek's proposed cuts for 2010. They said some of the issues Pulkrabek raised were discussed at meetings he did not attend.

Like Pulkrabek, Commissioner Lisa Weik of Woodbury said in September that she wanted more budget cuts considered. But she said his proposal is "arbitrary and, to me, at the last minute."

"I always think more time is better," she said.

Weik stepped up her criticism today on the Web site Twitter. She wrote that it is hard to support a proposal without having time to read it. "This isn't Congress."

"'Going rogue' with the county budget might be funny if the economy wasn't so fractured and our citizens weren't in real pain," Weik added.

The Tuesday discussion came as commissioners and county staff put the final touches on the 2010 budget and tax proposal. Washington County plans a $144 million operating budget next year, supported by a 0.9 percent property tax increase. Another 1 percent levy increase would fund a $10 million borrowing plan for the voter-approved Land and Water Legacy program.

The County Board has scheduled a public hearing on the 2010 budget for 6 p.m. Dec. 8. Commissioners are expected to set the 2010 property tax levy and county budget Dec. 15.

When commissioners in September approved the 1.9 percent preliminary levy increase, Pulkrabek said he would come up with a list of budget cuts to erase the planned levy hike.

Pulkrabek, whose district includes part of north Woodbury, said that the next two weeks is adequate time to make changes to the budget plan. The problem, he said, is that Kriesel and commissioners Myra Peterson and Dennis Hegberg lack the "political will" to seek more spending cuts.

"I stand by these," he said of the proposed reductions.

Wente can be reached at