Thomson, Carlton participate in joint visioning sessionLate last winter, however, members of the Thomson Town Board decided to put out a few feelers to find out if the city of Carlton was still interested in discussing a merger and if so, what it might involve.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
The city of Thomson – located just outside the gate to Jay Cooke State Park – has had its Local Government Aid (LGA) cut every year since City Clerk Ruth Jorgenson first took office in 2007. The cuts put a strain on the budget of the tiny city, population 159, but last year’s record flooding was the final straw that threatened to break the camel’s back.
“After the flood, everything loomed that much larger,” admitted Jorgenson.
As a result, Thomson has reopened talks of a possible merger with the nearby city of Carlton. Jorgenson said Carlton city councilors and administrators first came to Thomson with the suggestion seven years ago, but Thomson city officials declined.
Late last winter, however, members of the Thomson Town Board decided to put out a few feelers to find out if the city of Carlton was still interested in discussing a merger and if so, what it might involve.
“We are just too small to sustain the losses,” said Jorgenson, adding that Thomson has already begun contracting with the city of Carlton for water, fire protection, ambulance service and some of its maintenance work as well. “With only a part-time clerk and part-time utility man (who is also the mayor) on staff, we found there simply weren’t enough resources to go around. If we need anything extra done, such as replacing a fire hydrant, we have to work with Carlton or Scanlon to get it done.”
She said the city of Thomson also contracts with Carlton County to plow its streets in the winter and grade its gravel roads in the summer, and the only equipment the Thomson city staff owns is a push lawn mower.
Jorgenson said Thomson managed to get by without raising its taxes last year, but this year they went up by 2 percent. That’s a lot for a small population to bear. Add to that the fact that the mayor, clerk and city councilors have all served for many years and no one new has stepped up to the plate.
“It’s getting pretty difficult to recruit,” she admitted.
Carlton City Clerk/Treasurer Tracey Hartung said the merger talks between the two cities began in the form of informal discussions between the mayors and city councilors, who have been meeting two times a month since the beginning of the year with an eye toward potentially holding a public visioning session to determine where the residents would like this proposal to go and whether to move ahead with it at all. That session is now set for Thursday, June 13, at 6:30 p.m. at the Four Seasons Sports Complex and Event Center, 1568 Highway 210, Carlton. It will be facilitated by a professional team from the Arrowhead Regional Development Commission (ARDC).
“We will assist participants with identifying what they want the community(s) to be like in 10 years and also to identify strategies that can be implemented to help make that vision happen,” said Andy Hubley, ARDC regional planning division director. “The merger may be one of those strategies and will be examined thoroughly.”
ARDC will develop a summary of the visioning session following the meeting, and additional opportunities for public input will occur if the process moves forward past this initial meeting.
“ARDC is not yet recommending a merger,” clarified Hubley, “but possible benefits could include improved services, elimination of duplicate services, reduced expenses for city services, increased availability of developable land, increased number of volunteers and community leaders, and increased community influence when dealing with other local and state officials.
“Our two councils have not passed any resolutions at this point,” emphasized Jorgenson. “We’ve only discussed the idea of pursuing a friendly consolidation, with the idea that if we decide to move forward, we would gradually start merging everything together.”
The hope is that this week’s public visioning session will provide the public and stakeholders of Thomson and Carlton a chance to learn more about the potential merger and to participate in developing a joint vision statement for the venture. Jorgenson said if the cities receive the public’s mandate, they are required by the state to hold a public hearing. Then, the two councils would need to pass a formal resolution to move the matter on to a vote by residents in November’s election.
“The final decision will be left entirely up to our residents, mayors, clerks and city councils,” said Jorgenson.
She said both cities have already had a financial analysis done, and the consultant commented that they two are very similar in their tax bases, expenditures and debt. They are also similar in their land base – Carlton incorporates 1,452 acres and Thomson has 1,427.
“The financial consultant said it was like comparing apples to apples,” said Hartung. “This just feels right. It feels like a good transition.”
Jorgenson added that the people of Thomson need not fear losing their identity through the potential merger.
“We have wonderful people and a long history,” she said. “We’ll always be Thomson.”