The city of Northfield has received significant public attention related to recent boundary adjustment agreements with its neighbors Bridgewater Township and Waterford Township. The local government system in Minnesota has three basic units: towns, cities and counties. The town form of government is appropriate for rural and agricultural areas. Towns have very limited taxing and regulatory power with an added emphasis on giving significant elector participation in government decision making at an annual meeting. In contrast, the city form of government applies to urban and suburban areas. Cities have broad taxing and regulatory powers. An elected city council makes nearly all city government decisions.
The state of Minnesota also establishes how cities’ boundaries may be adjusted. One way Minnesota encourages cities and townships to plan for areas that could become part of cities is through a joint agreement called “orderly annexation.” Typically, these areas are contiguous with boundaries of cities and are likely to experience pressure for urban or suburban development on municipal sewer and/or water. Cities, like Northfield, plan for these areas through adoption of a comprehensive plan, which in Northfield’s case identifies future “urban growth areas” that guide municipal decision making, particularly to size water, sewer and transportation systems to accommodate this growth.
As it relates to the current orderly annexation agreement discussion with Bridgewater Township, the city of Northfield believes we have many shared values, and that foundation should allow us to reach an agreement on how to handle future growth, development and boundary adjustment issues. Examples of these values include: preserving rural character of undeveloped areas in our community; honoring property owner wishes (whether to be annexed and develop or remain rural in the township); ensuring all community jurisdictions have strong tax bases and overall financial health; planning for orderly, sustainable growth and development supported by municipal sewer and water; protection of the environment, and maintaining positive working relationships among all neighboring jurisdictions.
Orderly annexations, to be effective, are required by state law to specifically designate areas that are in need of orderly annexation. The identified areas should establish and/or maintain land use control regulations protecting the rural/agricultural character within those areas that are not annexed to ensure it does not create future challenges related to planned infrastructure service. As the properties are deemed to be ready for annexation under the agreed upon terms, state law provides parameters for cities to provide tax reimbursements to townships through these agreements. Orderly agreements that are mutually agreeable, clear and consistent with state law are an important tool available to cities and townships to avoid future conflicts.
Designated elected and appointed city of Northfield officials have recently met with Bridgewater Township supervisors to consider extension of the existing orderly annexation set to expire at the end of the year. Bridgewater expressed appreciation for the Northfield Council’s effort to approach their concerns regarding the future prospects of the Township through discussion and negotiation. Northfield is working to extend the existing agreement with a commitment to regular meetings as requested by Bridgewater. Our local community includes multiple cities and townships. All of our interests will be best served if we can resolve our concerns regarding growth and jurisdictional boundaries through dialogue and negotiations.
Ben Martig is the city administrator of Northfield