A two-county merger? No way, say local officialsRamsey County idea falls flat across the border
By: Scott Wente, South Washington County Bulletin
Washington County enjoys a neighbors-with-benefits relationship with Ramsey County. They operate independently but hook up on projects that benefit both of them.
So, how about a marriage of the two counties?
“Over my dead body,” Washington County Commissioner Bill Pulkrabek said.
Pulkrabek was responding to Ramsey County Commissioner Jan Parker’s recent suggestion that the two counties consider merging into one.
Parker raised the issue during an annual meeting last week of commissioners and staff from the bordering counties. In interviews following the meeting, Washington County commissioners rejected the idea — and even poked fun at it.
Parker said the two counties could benefit by merging in the future, perhaps in 2022 after the next census. They have similarities and provide many of the same services, she said.
“I think there would be some economies of scale,” she said.
In addition to the many logistical questions of how a merger would occur, state law would have to be changed to allow a combining of counties.
Longtime Washington County Commissioner Myra Peterson snickered at the idea, saying Parker has talked about it for years. Last week was the first time she proposed a merger date.
Washington County would be the financial losers in that arrangement, Peterson predicted. Social service costs are three times higher per capita in Ramsey County than in Washington County.
“We’ve always worked well together and tried to find things that we can do together, smarter, less costly — but merger? I don’t think so,” Peterson said.
Peterson and fellow Washington County Commissioner Lisa Weik of Woodbury said they are in favor of more efforts to share services among counties, but said Ramsey and Washington counties are different.
Ramsey County, home to St. Paul, is mostly urban and suburban. Washington County is predominantly suburban and rural. The Ramsey County population is more than double Washington County’s, and there are demographic differences.
“The cost for services is so much higher that I think Ramsey County taxpayers would come out ahead,” Weik said. “Washington County taxpayers would not come out ahead.”
If Washington County merged with any of its neighbors, Dakota County would make the most sense, commissioners said, though they were not advocating for a merger. Dakota County also is a mix of suburbs and rural areas and competes with Washington County for low tax rates and service costs.
“There is a better chance of Washington County seceding from Minnesota than merging with Ramsey (County),” Pulkrabek said.
Parker said she was speaking only for herself and that opinions vary even on the Ramsey County Board.
“It’s not something that would be easy or unanimously accepted as a good thing, but if you look at all the taxpayers in the counties, there would be benefits,” she said.
Peterson said Washington County residents would not be satisfied with Ramsey County commissioner salaries. She said Washington County Board members earn about $30,000 less than their colleagues to the west.
Washington County commissioners make $52,713. Ramsey County commissioners will earn $84,048 next year, after receiving a 2 percent pay increase. Peterson said that would not fly in fiscally conservative Washington County.
“Oh, my goodness, our citizens would go crazy,” she said.