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As Minnesota's Cities Grow, Townships Fade Away

More and more townships are choosing to join up with cities


In Minnesota, a particular form of government is disappearing. Townships were initially created as a simplified form of local control for rural and sparsely populated areas. With limited civic and government services, townships were organized around small councils of neighbors, but were largely just collections of independent farming families.

But as populations have grown and spread out into these, the need for government services and amenities has made the township way of life increasingly obsolete. These small rural communities are joining up with neighboring towns and cities to pool resources.

It's a trend seen throughout the state. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that on January 1, 2012, Hennepin County will become first county in the state with no official townships. Hassan Township (and its 2,600 residents) is being annexed by the nearby city of Rogers, about 20 miles outside of Minneapolis.

For Hassan Township and neighboring Rogers, the march of development, a swelling population and a mounting need for infrastructure have all contributed to the demise of the county’s last township. Underlying all this is a desire to keep the local economy growing.

Rogers City Administrator Steve Stahmer said that Hassan Township encircles the city, but Rogers has been growing outward in concentric circles, with developers nibbling along the fringes of Hassan's borders.

Rogers has sewer and water utilities and Hassan does not, and that's what's going to make additional growth and development possible in this area," Stahmer said. The city's population grew from about 700 residents in 1990 to more than 3,500 in 2000 and reached nearly 8,600 last year.

Along with these improvements in civic services and infrastructure, residents of the soon-to-be former Township of Hassan will also see their property taxes increase – eventually. Voters in Hassan who approved the annexation set their own tax levy at 0 percent for 2012, but will begin contributing to Rogers in 2013.

As Hassan disappears, so too may other townships in the region. The Star-Tribune notes that two nearby counties have also seen their townships vanish in recent years. Both Ramsey and Anoka counties have only one left, and it's likely these and others in metropolitan regions like this one will gradually fade away.

Photo credit: Eric Thayer/Reuters 

About the Author

  • Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.