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Commissioner Weik rejects call to exit transit consortium

A Washington County commissioner on Tuesday called for a vote soon on whether the county should pull out of a Twin Cities-area transit funding board, a move that could cost Washington County millions of dollars in funding for future transportation projects.

Commissioner Bill Pulkrabek said Tuesday that he favored bringing to a formal vote "relatively quickly" the county's continued involvement in the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) and the quarter-percent sales tax collected in Washington County to support the five-county consortium.

Despite Pulkrabek's proposal, it appears a majority of the County Board still supports CTIB involvement.

No action was taken at Tuesday's County Board meeting.

The County Board last year reviewed its CTIB participation, but did not vote on whether to remain involved. Since then, Autumn Lehrke of Cottage Grove has replaced former Commissioner Myra Peterson on the County Board. Peterson supported the county's CTIB involvement. Lehrke has said she has reservations about funding transit projects like the proposed Red Rock commuter rail line from St. Paul to Hastings, with planned stops in Newport and Cottage Grove. CTIB funds are proposed for that project.

With the addition of Lehrke to the County Board, Pulkrabek said, "It would be an opportunity to vet that out further."

Lehrke said in an interview she would vote to pull out of CTIB. She said she supports bus service, not rail.

"The cost of pulling out is peanuts compared to the cost of staying in," Lehrke said of CTIB.

County officials have said that if commissioners voted to back out of the agreement, the sales tax still would remain for a number of years but the county would miss out on millions of dollars in regional transit funding budgeted for local projects in the future. Those projects include transit upgrades to Interstate 94 through Woodbury and the Red Rock Corridor.

Commissioner Lisa Weik of Woodbury signaled that she would not support jumping ship if there were a vote.

"I would say you're a day late and a dollar short," Weik told Pulkrabek during a County Board meeting in Stillwater.

Commissioner Gary Kriesel, whose district includes Stillwater, also indicated he does not want the county to bail from the transit board.

"I don't think 25 cents on $100 is all that outrageous to fund transit," he said of the local sales tax.

Commissioner Dennis Hegberg of Forest Lake also has supported the county's CTIB involvement.

Pulkrabek said in an interview that he wants a CTIB vote "for clarification" because there has been no vote since it initially passed in 2008. Pulkrabek said that based on commissioners' past statements there may be four votes against continued participation in CTIB.

Scott Wente contributed to this story.