Case study: Big Lake, where city and township get along


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For a number of years, Baldwin Township has been grappling with questions revolving around incorporation, planning and annexation to Princeton. So, as part of MPR News’ Ground Level project, we’ve spoken to people in other townships to see how they make things work.

Big Lake Township, at just under 8,000 residents, is the largest township in Sherburne County and the second largest in the state. According to township board chair Bob Hofer, it has no plans to incorporate and is not in favor of orderly annexation with its neighbor, the city of Big Lake, which has about 9,000 people.

And yet, Big Lake and Big Lake Township have found ways to work together, says Hofer. The two share a fire department. They also co-own two industrial parks that contain restaurants, a hotel, and a medical and dental clinic. Both the expenses and the tax benefits are split 50/50. “It’s much easier and cheaper to get along than it is to fight each other,” says Hofer. “Only the lawyers win when you fight.”

The first joint project was “created from scratch” after a township business, Remmele Engineering, which makes parts for aerospace and medical companies, wanted to expand but needed city services to do so. Remmele required more water than a rural well could provide, explains Hofer. “They stayed in the township and took on city water and become a joint venture.”

To maintain the industrial parks, the entire city council and the entire township board meet once every two months to hash over various issues. “It’s a good working relationship,” Hofer says. “The city and the township could be considered pretty much married. There are differences that come up, but they are settled amicably for the most part. At least people don’t throw things.”

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