Why Minnesota Towns Are Opting to Incorporate

Why Minnesota Towns Are Opting to Incorporate?

As development pressures increase, rural Minnesota towns are facing tough decisions about their future. Incorporating as a city can help protect a town’s rural character – but is it the right choice? We look at the key questions towns have as they weigh this decision.

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What Does Incorporation Mean?

Incorporating essentially means the town transitions from a township governed by a town board to a city with an elected city council and mayor. Townships are limited in their powers – cities have much broader authority to tax, regulate land use, and provide services.

The biggest reason towns incorporate is to protect against annexation. Cities can annex land from adjacent townships relatively easily. But they can’t annex land from another city as readily. Becoming a city gives the town more say in planning decisions.

Cities vs. Townships: What’s the Difference?

In Minnesota, not all populated areas are incorporated as cities. Another major form of local government is the township. So what exactly is the difference between cities and townships in our state?

Townships are the default governing structure for rural areas across Minnesota. They are typically governed by an elected town board and operate under different rules than cities.

Cities, on the other hand, are areas that have specifically been incorporated under Minnesota state law. They operate with elected mayors and city councils and have broader powers to tax, regulate development, and provide services.

A township remains unincorporated until its residents vote to incorporate as a city. This incorporation process transfers governance from a town board to a city mayor and council.

Minnesota has over 1,700 organized townships, mostly in rural counties. Many have retained their township status for generations. But others have opted to incorporate as cities, especially in suburban areas facing growth pressures.

How Does Incorporation Impact Taxes?

Cities tend to have higher property taxes than townships to fund additional services like police. But towns have found ways to incorporate while keeping taxes low.

The key is controlling costs and slowing the pace of development that can trigger more spending. Town leaders say keeping rural density requirements helps a lot.

What About Rural Character?

Many residents worry incorporating will lead to more suburban-style development. But towns like Scandia have maintained their rural feel.

Strict planning and zoning focused on preserving open spaces, wetlands, and lower housing density have been key. Towns also keep township-style government with citizens closely involved.

Does Incorporation Stop Annexation?

It doesn’t completely prevent annexation attempts. But it does give the town more leverage in stopping them. Townships have little recourse if a city moves to annex.

Cities have to clear more hurdles to annex land from another city. It’s a defensive move that reduces the risk.

How Does the Process Work?

If residents vote to incorporate, town leaders file extensive paperwork with the state. It can take around 6 months for the Secretary of State to approve a new city.

Leaders use this transition period to put new permitting and planning rules in place to preserve rural character. It’s complex but doable.

The Bottom Line

Incorporation is a tool for towns to proactively protect their future. Done thoughtfully, it can maintain a small town’s rural lifestyle while preventing unwanted annexation.

There’s no one size fits all answer – it depends on each town’s specific goals and needs. But the option for more local control exists.

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