After 20 years of Hugo City Council service, area farmer now serves on Washington County Board
As Fran Miron makes the dash from his farm home to the barn on a cold March morning, a wind-driven snowstorm pelts his face. After heading out for the 5 a.m. milking on this late winter day, Miron is back in the barn where a Holstein heifer is about to calf for the first time.
With the help of his son and full-time farm hand Paul, the heifer calf is delivered without incident. It’s calving season on the Miron farm in Hugo, and there is little time to rest. Such is the life of a dairy farmer.
Now three months into the new year, Miron is also facing a more intense schedule following his successful bid for the Washington County Board of Commissioners last November. He won the four-year term with a nine-point victory over Dennis Hegberg of Forest Lake, who had served the 1st District for more than two decades.
It’s a new commitment for Miron, and he is managing to juggle both farm and government duties in much the same fashion as when he spent 20 years as Hugo’s mayor and a councilman.
“There haven’t been too many milkings that I’ve missed,” Miron said as the strong northwest winds raged on a morning when winter refused to give way to spring.
Farm life has been all that Miron has known. The family’s roots on the farm go back to 1887 and the operation has been his full-time occupation since 1976. But government service has long been a part of his life, too. His years of service in Hugo include 16 years as mayor and four years as a council member.
That desire to serve led to the family decision to run for the county board last year. It was not an easy decision, Miron said.
After serving on the Hugo City Council since 1990, Miron concluded the time was right for a new direction in his public service. But he clearly understood that his longtime friend Hegberg was still in the picture.
When redistricting hit last year, Miron said he was hopeful the 1st District would be slated for a two-year term. Had that happened, Miron said, he likely would have waited two years to test the county board water. In two years the youngest of Miron and Mary Ann’s children, Andrew, will graduate from the University of Minnesota and likely head home to the farm.
“Dennis and I talked about it,” Miron said of the possibility of running for the county board. When it was determined that Hegberg’s seat would be up for four years and not two, Miron’s mind was set.
At age 60, he said waiting until he was 64 was a factor.
“I argued a lot over filing and running against Dennis,” he said. “I had a lot of respect for Dennis and the accomplishments he made in Washington County.”
But when the ballots were counted, the district had voted for a change and Miron took office in January, launching a new direction for community service.
Time was right
Miron believes the time was right for a new personal challenge.
During the time he served Hugo, the population swelled from 3,000 to 14,000 today. He helped govern during a time of monitored growth in the city. Coming with the growth of residential properties has been a new commercial business district on CR-8A just east of I-35E.
His tenure on the council also saw the construction of a new city hall and fire hall. In the early 1970s, the city was served by one municipal well and water tower. Today the city has three water towers and six wells providing water to city homes and businesses.
“And we had sewer access,” Miron said. “That came with the merger” of the former Village of Hugo and Oneka Township in 1971 he said, pointing to the metro sewer interceptor that serves Hugo and Forest Lake.
“I felt very comfortable leaving,” he added. “I came in (to the county board) with a fresh perspective.”
With just three months under his belt as a commissioner, Miron is recognizing the changes. He is now helping manage a 2013 county budget of $173 million compared to annual spending of $5 million in Hugo.
As mayor, Miron had many hands-on duties related to the operation of the city. As a commissioner he now finds himself dealing more with staff. He remains intent upon meeting regularly with local units of government and the district and staying in touch with residents by attending community functions.
But he has one central goal in mind as a commissioner: He aims to push for additional economic development throughout Washington County while maintaining a flat tax rate. He credits Hegberg for his work in keeping property taxes in the county low while working to maintain services. The county ranks 82 among the state’s 87 counties for its per capita property tax levy.
Still, Miron said, there are challenges facing the county in maintaining roads and bridges. A review of the county’s road maintenance plan shows that by 2016 adequate county funding may not be available. The demand could reach $7 million per year in the near future, and providing those dollars will be a challenge, he said.
While he is not keen on a property tax levy increase, he said other revenue sources, such as the wheelage tax, could raise dollars to support road needs. County residents that use the roads pay the tax, he said.
Since 2008, county residents have paid a $5 wheelage tax when they renew their vehicle registration with the state. That brings in just over $1 million of the county’s annual $4 million road maintenance budget, he said. One consideration being studied by the county is to increase the tax to $10 per vehicle, he said. That would pump another $1 million into the road maintenance budget.
There are also recreational trail needs that the county board will address, he said. The Hardwood Creek Trail from Hugo to the county line in Forest Lake will be repaved next year. Hardwood Creek is the most used trail in the county, Miron said.
The board is also working on acquiring the final section of abandoned rail line between 240th and 245th streets in Hugo to add to the Hardwood Creek Trail. That will help connect the county trail system along CR-8A with the Anoka County regional trail system to the west.
Miron is optimistic that the county will be successful in seeing its commercial taxing district grow without adding a tax burden to businesses. He said the county board is looking to tax abatement programs as one way to bring new businesses and jobs to the county.
Plans are now advancing to provide tax abatement incentives for a trucking firm from Wisconsin to build a new terminal in Lake Elmo and create 30 to 50 jobs, he said. It is such ventures where the county can be of help, Miron said.
“We need to grow market value,” he said. “We can still maintain a flat tax rate and continue to provide the service level that people of the county expect. That includes roads.”
Farming runs deep
That Miron still takes his turn in the barn at 5 a.m. and 6 p.m. for the twice-daily milking is no surprise.
His desire for government service runs deep but so does his love of farming. With sons Paul and Andrew likely to remain on the farm, Fran and Mary Ann Miron believe they have a solid transition plan in place to continue the Miron tradition.
Miron could have gravitated away from the farm following his 1972 graduation from Forest Lake High School, but always found he was drawn home. In 1976 Miron graduated from the University of Minnesota with a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture education. During his four years of college, he stayed at home to save costs and worked full-time as a bridge operator for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad. He still managed time to work on the farm with his parents, Marcel and Clara.
He was a student teacher in Paynesville during his senior year. The idea of teaching, however, was quickly fading as a goal.
“I knew I wasn’t going to be a teacher,” he said, thinking back on that teaching assignment. “I couldn’t wait to get home and be out in the fields or with the cattle.”
After college, he explored farming options and looked at a farm near Lindstrom that was for sale. During his years in high school and college, two brothers, Al and George (there are nine kids in the Marcel Miron family) had helped run the farm. With brother George electing to move on to a new career, Fran was offered the opportunity to join his father.
Fran and Mary Ann Miron married in 1978 and raised six kids on the family farm. While Paul and Andrew appear set to engage in farming, four of the kids want careers in education. Sons Mike (agriculture) and Mark (elementary) are both teachers in the Forest Lake school district.
Daughter Ann Miron Tauzell is on child care leave as an agriculture teacher in Forest Lake following the birth of the first Miron grandchild on March 15. Second daughter Katie, who followed Ann as a Princess Kay of the Milky Way, will graduate from the University of Minnesota this spring and plans to teach agriculture education.
There are times when the entire Miron clan is on hand to help with the farm duties. That includes Marcel, who is retired and living on the farm.
Fran Miron and Paul are now milking 60 cows after decreasing their herd by 40 cows last year to help ease the workload with Miron taking on new county functions. As Andrew’s plans to return home take root, the herd will be increased, Miron said.
The family is awaiting the end of winter and a return to the fields. The Mirons farm 700 acres in all, including rental land. Hay, corn and soybeans are grown, with most of the harvest used to feed the dairy herd.
As the wear and tear on the body from a lifetime of work becomes more noticeable, Miron said he looks forward to the help his sons provide.
“There is the physical component,” Miron said. “I’ve been used to the long days on the farm.”
Still, he says, working with the animals and being in the fields provides the energy that recharges his battery and motivates him to do more.
“I find my solitude on the farm,” he said.