Case Study: Nowthen Becomes a City

One of the questions before Baldwin Township is whether it should become a city. I spoke with Corrie LaDoucer, the treasurer and clerk for Nowthen, which incorporated in 2008, about that city’s smooth transition. And the few bumps along the way.

Says LaDoucer, “There were sewer lines coming in our direction, so we thought it was probably better to protect ourselves.” Nowthen, formerly Burns Township, has 4,400 people and is surrounded by the cities of Elk River, Ramsey, and Oak Grove. Though no annexations had occurred, township residents figured it was best to secure the borders just in case.

“Elk River had some pretty big developments coming in that bordered us,” LaDoucer says. “Ramsey sewer and water was starting to come further north. We weren”t sure what would happen.”

Four Minnesota townships have successfully incorporated since 2000, according to the website for the state’s office of Municipal Boundary Adjustments. Two others petitioned: One case was denied and the other was dismissed.

“Ours was one of the easiest incorporations our attorney had ever seen,” says LaDoucer. “None of the bordering cities were against it.” She says the town board wrote up a proposal and presented it to the various city councils to smooth the way. “We had not one person who was against it,” she says. “Not even our residents.”

The situation in Nowthen differs from that in Baldwin Township, mainly because even before incorporation, Nowthen provided some city services and had its own comprehensive plan. It also had an independent downtown with a restaurant and gas station. “The majority of our functions were already running like a city,” says LaDoucer. “We had our own planning and zoning. We did everything a city does.”

There have been a few hitches. Nowthen’s leaders are scratching their heads trying to figure out how to maintain low taxes while paying for policing – a service that counties typically provide for townships.

But, says LaDoucer, the hardest aspect of becoming a city was getting people to stop calling the place Burns and start calling it Nowthen. The name is an homage to James Hare, an area postmaster from the 1800s, who often began and ended sentences with, “Now then.” Says LaDoucer, “If it had been the city of Burns it wouldn’t have been as difficult.”

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