Bridgewater Township and the city of Northfield are negotiating an annexation agreement that would postpone the township’s potential petition for incorporation.
The township and city are working toward extending the 20-year-old agreement, set to expire in December. The city has submitted a proposed five-year extension that would exist on the condition that the township not petition for incorporation during that time. The township is requesting a three-year extension with conditions that include a set meeting schedule to address the issues the township has that has led them to consider petitioning for incorporation, including a desire for more zoning power and expansion of its revenue sources. The township is also seeking a commitment from the city not to sue unless Bridgewater petitions for incorporation during that period.
The Northfield City Council has expressed interest in helping the township generate revenue through means other than incorporation, including supporting efforts made by Bridgewater and/or working cooperatively with the township and Rice County.
Supervisor Glen Castore said earlier this week that incorporation could be one way of increasing Bridgewater’s power over its own zoning laws.
Castore and the board have maintained that increased zoning powers are needed to attract new businesses. He added the township is also exploring other avenues of expanding its zoning powers that may be less disruptive.
Due to its attractive location between the city of Northfield and Interstate 35, Bridgewater Township has frequently attracted new development, only to see the developed areas annexed by Northfield.
Bridgewater Township’s budget benefits from a $150,000 annual fee from the county due to the presence of the Rice County landfill in the township. When the landfill eventually closes, the fee will disappear with it. Castore believes that it’s essential for the township to prepare for this loss of revenue by working to expand its other revenue sources.
“Long term, we need a financial base which enables us to improve and maintain the road system,” Castore said.
He said Tuesday during a township-city meeting that if the city sues the township, it will likely not be able to effectively fight back because of the relatively few legal resources at its disposal.
Castore said part of the reason the township is evaluating incorporating is the slow response of Northfield to the township’s request to enter into annexation negotiations. He reported the city only reached out after the township began the process.
“From our viewpoint, it’s not wise for us to walk away from incorporation, because that’s what’s bringing the city to the table,” he said.
Northfield City Councilor Jessica Peterson White said Tuesday that the council has clearly stated its interest in hiring a lawyer, but that only stems from its need for a response to any potential petition for incorporation, not pending legal action.
Northfield City Administrator Ben Martig said a concern for the city is that if the township decides to petition for incorporation in September, a hearing could take place within 30 to 90 days, giving the city little time to prepare a legal strategy.
He said he sees redundancies and inefficiencies if Northfield, Dundas and Bridgewater were all cities.
Martig said although Northfield and Bridgewater Township will have differing opinions on certain topics, there have been adversarial comments made to the public during the process, making it more difficult to find a solution.
During the meeting, Mayor Rhonda Pownell said Northfield wants to reach an agreement with the township without it petitioning for incorporation.
She noted for the city to sign onto an agreement, it needs to know Bridgewater will pause the incorporation process.
“If you don’t pause moving forward with incorporation, again, we’re playing catch-up,” she said
Supervisor Gary Ebling said in considering incorporation, the township is trying to ensure its existence for a significant length of time. At one point, he said the township had a better agreement with Dundas than what Northfield was offering. He accused Northfield of having a “club mentality” about the process, making it more difficult for the township to seek incorporation. He said if a similar request was made in a different part of the state, it would be easier because there would not be as much politics at play.
Castore acknowledged that even if Northfield and Dundas were favorable to the township incorporating, the process would still be “risky,” because it would be in the hands of a third party.
Peterson White later said the city clearly communicated that it did not support the township incorporating because it had in mind the needs of Northfield taxpayers. She asked Ebling what the city had to gain from the township incorporating.
“You could still [annex] land,” he replied.