City of Carlton reissues intent to annex Twin Lakes TownshipIt was déjà vu as the board of Twin Lakes Township received a letter from the city of Carlton Jan. 31, indicating the city’s intent to annex the township at some time in the foreseeable future.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
It was déjà vu as the board of Twin Lakes Township received a letter from the city of Carlton Jan. 31, indicating the city’s intent to annex the township at some time in the foreseeable future. The township received a similar letter of intent from the city exactly two years earlier, triggering an informational meeting attended by some 300 township residents – many of whom voiced objections to the move.
Shortly thereafter, councilors for the city of Carlton passed a motion to revoke their intent to initiate a contested annexation.
At that time, the two groups mutually decided to put the annexation issue on hold and address the most pressing issue at hand, which was a proposed water line from Carlton to the Highway 210 business corridor and the location of a proposed county business park development.
The two groups agreed to form a six-person committee of city and township representatives to discuss the pros and cons of initiating an orderly annexation “sometime down the road.”
At that time, Carlton City Council member Kirk Johnson pointed out that economic development is the only way for Carlton to grow and prosper.
“If we want our tax base to grow – we need annexation,” he said. “We’re basically exercising a right to grow.”
He added that such growth would be beneficial to the entire area.
Additionally, attorneys for both groups were instructed to draw up an agreement that would enable the two entities to move ahead with the design process for the water line, which they discovered was necessary in order to access grant funding.
The city and township quickly ran up against a number of roadblocks, however.
Carlton County commissioners declined to participate in a joint powers agreement with the city of Carlton and Twin Lakes Township to help finance the design of the water line extension. Though the design work was eventually completed without the county’s assistance, no grant money appeared to be available any longer to fund such a project.
When the city and township jointly hired a financial consultant to put together research on how the tax bases would be affected if part or all of Twin Lakes Township was annexed, the resulting information, according to Town Board Chairperson Diane Felde-Finke, was not adequate to make a satisfactory determination.
Taking it a step further, the two groups agreed to hire the consultant to update the 2001 water line feasibility study, and in June 2011 he came up with an updated cost of $7.1 million to run the line along the Highway 210 business corridor, Olsonville and the Nordquist Addition.
“Based on that figure,” said Felde-Finke, “our board determined that the water line project would not be feasible at this time and that the cost would always be too high without grants.”
A subsequent meeting between the city and the township on Sept. 27, 2011, proved to be non-productive and at times, contentious. At its conclusion, representatives of the city gave the township 30 days to decide if they were willing to proceed with an orderly annexation or the city would proceed on its own.
According to Felde-Finke, the letter of response drafted by the township’s attorney acknowledged that the board believed an orderly annexation of part or all of the township “might make sense,” but only if certain triggers were activated to make that process mutually beneficial. Among those triggers was the point at which at least two-thirds of the affected residents would find themselves in need of water. Another was if a large business should move into the township that would require high-volume water usage. The letter to the city indicated the township wished to resume meeting with the city as a committee once again to further discussions regarding an orderly annexation if the city was willing to agree to the terms of the letter.
Felde-Finke said no further word came from the city of Carlton until the letter of intent to annex was received at the end of January. Suddenly, that brought all of the previous issues back to the table.
“Ever since 2010, we’d had a lot of feedback from our residents,” said Felde-Finke, “and we knew the majority feeling was negative, so the board decided to pass a motion to contest the annexation at its last meeting.
Carlton City Administrator Claudine Van Guilder affirmed Wednesday that the most recent letter of intent to annex Twin Lakes Township had gone out, though declined to offer a further timeline regarding just how soon the move might occur. She said state statute requires the letter indicating a city’s intention to annex a township must be in the hands of the board of the township in question at least 30 days prior to filing with the state for annexation.
“This doesn’t mean we have to do something when we reach that 30-day mark,” said Van Guilder, certifying that the city of Carlton has not yet taken any formal action to file an annexation petition with the state of Minnesota.
She added that from the city of Carlton’s standpoint, the issue of annexation has been discussed for many years already without making any significant forward progress. Now, she said, the city and township can no longer afford to let the matter drag on.
“Annexation can be hard for all involved,” she acknowledged, adding the city has taken into account the fact that there is “a totally different way of life for the city of Carlton and the rural areas of the township that would be affected” and said the city is willing to take that under consideration as it moves forward with any annexation plans.
“It’s become a matter of the survival of our communities – both Carlton and Twin Lakes – and our future growth,” said Van Guilder. “What we have [here in Carlton] is important to all of us – the businesses, the restaurants, the banks. Without Carlton, there would be no school. This is what it’s about. It’s not about a water line, it’s about being here tomorrow and long into the future.”
Regarding the impact of tax increases as the result a future annexation of Twin Lakes Township, Van Guilder said there is not currently enough information at hand to make an accurate determination what that impact might be.
“Not everybody has the information to say taxes will do this or do that at this point,” she stated.
County Auditor/Treasurer Paul Gassert stated Wednesday that if Twin Lakes Township is annexed by the city of Carlton, the city would have to be prepared to maintain roads, provide police protection and administer zoning issues throughout that additional area.
Twin Lakes Township has a population of some 2,000 people, according to the most recent census. It covers a geographic area of 44.8 square miles, or 2,100 acres, and includes four lakes within its borders, including Chub, Hay, Lac LaBelle and Venoah.
It also encompasses the business corridor along Highway 210 that includes Leemo’s Northstar, Junction Oasis, Spirits and several others. The boundaries of the township run roughly south to County Road 4, east to the edge of the city of Carlton, north to just beyond Highway 210, and west to just beyond Black Bear Casino Resort.
If the city of Carlton determines to proceed with filing a petition to annex part or all of Twin Lakes Township, it now appears that annexation will be contested rather than orderly.
In a contested annexation, the final decision is made by a judge who goes through a factual process based on 16 criteria to determine whether or not the annexation makes sense for the communities. In some cases, the judge rules against the annexation if it’s clear the city cannot meet the needs of the community being annexed.
The second method is called an orderly annexation in which the two parties come to an agreement about how much land and in what increments to annex to the city without judicial procedures.
At Tuesday’s meeting of the Carlton City Council this week, Kirk Johnson, veteran council member and long a supporter of annexation, tendered his resignation in writing to the council with two years remaining on his term. The board will advertise the vacant post next week and Van Guilder said she hopes the city will have it filled by the March meeting.
“Kirk has been an instrumental part of the city of Carlton for a long time,” said Van Guilder, “and he has done tremendous things. We want to thank him for his years of service.”
Johnson declined to make comment on the reasons for his departure.
Van Guilder stressed that anyone wishing to obtain more information about the proposed annexation is free to attend any or all meetings of the Carlton City Council, which take place the second Tuesday of every month at 5 p.m. in the Carlton Civic Center. She added that the public is also welcome to stop by city hall at any time or contact one of the city council members, which include Wes Vork, LeeAnn Thiesen and Adam Bailey.
Twin Lakes Township board members include Felde-Finke, John Vernon, Randy Willie, Stephanie Schmitz and Sue Chapin.