Last year’s flood pushes two towns closer to consolidating

It looks like the flooding that hit the Duluth area in June 2012 might claim one more victim: the small city of Thomson itself.

The residents of Carlton and Thomson, two small towns southwest of Duluth, are voting Nov. 5 whether to consolidate. A vote in favor by both would mean Thomson would become an official neighborhood of Carlton at the end of 2014. If you’re counting, that would reduce the number of Minnesota cities to 853.

Residents in Carlton and Thomson have been talking formally for several years about consolidating, but the floods that evacuated Thomson and cut off services really taxed the part-time staff of the town and made the need greater, city clerk Ruth Jorgenson said.

“We’re neighbors,” she said. “This would be tying the knot, making it legal.”

Vermillion Street in Thomson after June 2012 flooding. (MPR Photo/Nathaniel Minor)

State law requires consolidating cities to touch one another. Carlton, population 862, and Thomson, population 159, just barely do, sharing a boundary for a couple hundred yards where the St. Louis River spills out of the Thomson Reservoir. If you’re driving toward Jay Cooke State Park on Highway 210, you leave Carlton and enter Thomson when you cross the river. The Willard Munger State Trail passes through both towns.

Residents have held a visioning session and public hearings to air the proposal. They already share a lot of services, said Carlton County Auditor Paul Gassert. “The two entities get along and they always have.” The elections are being held by mail and the ballots already have been issued.

When heavy rain caused widespread damage in June 2012, Thomson had to evacuate the entire town. Carlton has pledged to take over administrative duties related to the flooding. It already supplies water and ambulance service to Thomson.

A merger would save a little money and not affect property taxes much, said Tracey Hartung, Carlton city clerk.

The St. Louis River is the boundary between Carlton and Thomson where it spills out of the Thomson Reservoir. (MPR photo/ Tim Nelson)

As for the name? The consolidated city would continue to be Carlton, but Thomson would be designated as an official neighborhood and would elect a council member.

Consolidation of local government has often been talked about and encouraged as a way to make services more efficient, but out and out merger doesn’t happen very often. The last time anybody did this in Minnesota was in 2007 when Elko and New Market consolidated to become Elko New Market.

One possible bonus if the two cities are joined is that the population would exceed 1,000. That, Hartung said, might help it get more attention when it comes to grant applications and some other programs.