Crow Wing County Board: Board approves annexation to Baxter
The city of Baxter will soon grow by 153 acres following county board approval Tuesday of an annexation agreement. About a dozen residents of the area to the east and north of Menards in Baxter unsuccessfully petitioned against the annexation for...
The city of Baxter will soon grow by 153 acres following county board approval Tuesday of an annexation agreement.
About a dozen residents of the area to the east and north of Menards in Baxter unsuccessfully petitioned against the annexation for the second day in a row-first to the Baxter City Council Monday night and then to the Crow Wing County Board Tuesday. The area-part of Unorganized Territory-includes parcels along Dellwood Drive, Whispering Woods Lane and Mertens Drive. It is isolated from the rest of what is also known as the First Assessment District, an area without an organized township structure. The county board acts as the township board for this and one other unorganized territory in Crow Wing County.
Several residents addressed the board during a public hearing on the matter, pointing to concerns about tax increases and suggesting residents could assume road maintenance responsibilities of the gravel roads themselves.
The annexation is the latest action surrounding the planned reconstruction of Dellwood Drive between Novotny Road and County Highway 49, also known as Wise Road, this year. The area was identified as a likely candidate for annexation in an agreement between Brainerd and Baxter 15 years ago, according to a presentation by County Engineer Tim Bray. Brainerd officially relinquished interest in annexing the area in January.
The annexation is similar to one completed in 2015 along Inglewood Drive. In both cases, the county made the argument the roads in question function more as city streets than township roads. With the current boundaries, snowplows from both Baxter and a county contractor are responsible for plowing different stretches of the same dead-end gravel road. This requirement leads to inefficiencies for both jurisdictions, Bray said.
The agreement between Baxter and the county includes a lump sum payment to Baxter earmarked for paving Whispering Woods Lane and Mertens Drive. In return, Baxter agreed not to assess property owners along those streets for those improvements.
Although the costs of those improvements would not be passed along to residents, property taxes on those parcels are set to increase following annexation. For a vacant parcel estimated at $50,000, for instance, taxes would increase from $50 to $268, a more than fivefold increase. A residential homestead valued at $200,000 would increase from $180 to $966, a difference of $786.
"We do not want to be annexed to the city of Baxter, due to the outrageous tax base that is going to hurt all of our families," said Rick Olson, a resident of Whispering Woods Lane. "I came here to ask if we could leave it as Unorganized Territory."
Olson handed county officials a petition he said was signed by multiple residents willing to take on the road maintenance themselves.
"Have the county walk away from it. You don't have to tar it," Olson said. "It will save you some money and we'll maintain the road as a private road. We maintained it before the county took over and the problems with it. We're a good group of people, hardworking. We can do it."
Bob Nelms, another Whispering Woods Lane resident, said he'd even collected bids from local companies willing to take up the snowplowing needs of the area.
"I don't see the advantage of the county paving the road and then just handing it over to Baxter," Nelms said. "We are willing to take over maintenance of said road, whether it's paved or not, and continue to pay our taxes to Crow Wing County."
County Administrator Tim Houle said there was no precedent for the county to vacate roads with residential development and foresaw potential liability issues related to private maintenance.
"If there is any negligence on their part in doing so, I believe we could still be accountable for the maintenance of that road," Houle said. "If we're sued, I'm not confident our insurance would cover that lawsuit."
Houle added none of the residents of those streets can exit the area without traveling on a Baxter city street, and Baxter is not willing to assume maintenance responsibility for the roads unless they are within Baxter city limits.
Another issue raised by a resident of the area related to zoning designation of the parcels. Judy Zahn, a resident of Dellwood Drive, said until a 2010-11 countywide rezoning effort, a parcel her family owns was designated as commercial property. The property is now zoned as residential, a change which Zahn said they did not expect nor want to occur.
The city of Baxter agreed to zone the annexed parcels to match current designations and offered a 12-month period when zoning changes would be considered at no charge to residents. If the area were not annexed and residents sought a zoning change, the cost through the county would be $500.
Zahn said they would not have to engage in this process if they'd received personalized notification from the county five years ago about the changes.
"I would like it to be a matter of record that we did not know ... that we had lost our zoning," Zahn said. "Had we been given the time we would have gone through the proper channels to get that back."
Houle said he wished to be sensitive to the fact that Zahn was not personally notified of the changes when they occurred, but noted the county met all legal requirements of public notice in the process.
Commissioner Paul Thiede said the 2010-11 rezoning was a unique situation that would not occur again on that scale.
"I would submit that that was a very, very unique situation in which we corrected some very, I won't say inappropriate, but let's say dartboard kind of decisions on how we had things on the zoning map," Thiede said. "I just don't want to leave the impression that that's something that we are going to do every day. ... I don't expect to have to revisit that any time in the future, frankly."
The county board approved the annexation in a 4-0 vote. Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom was absent from Tuesday's meeting.
CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or email@example.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .