As 2011 draws down to its final days, so does the time remaining for Hassan Township.
The 151-year-old community -- Hennepin County's only remaining township -- will blink out when the nearby city of Rogers officially annexes its 17 square miles and 2,600 residents on Sunday.
The change is a historic milestone. Hennepin will become Minnesota's first county without a township, although others in the metro area are not far behind. White Bear Township is the only township left in Ramsey County, and Linwood Township is the lone survivor in Anoka County.
"Either a city grows or it moves backward," said former Hassan Town Board Supervisor Joe Scherber, who said it was time for the two communities to unite and pool their strength. "You need to progress."
However, the process leading to the merger has had its ups and downs, in part because it involves a tradeoff: The township will gain city police protection and other services, but will need to pay for them through higher property taxes.
"You hate to see Hassan Township go, but for the community to grow, we have to do something," said Karen McCrossan, president of the Hassan Area Historical Society.
Townships are becoming scarce in metro areas, most often because they've outlived their usefulness and no longer meet the needs of growing populations.
They were originally formed to provide a simple form of government and a few services to rural areas, said William Craig, administrator of Hassan Township. Those who show up at the township's annual meeting determine property tax rates, he said, and other decisions are made by elected township boards.
Pressure to grow
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.
The annexation means that Craig and Hassan's two other full-time employees -- a clerk and a public works director -- will lose their jobs. Rogers will take over snowplowing and road maintenance. Police protection will shift from the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office to the Rogers Police Department. And the five-member Hassan Board of Supervisors will no longer have anything to supervise. Hassan residents will be folded into the Rogers electorate and choose City Council members.
Talk of annexation and merger has bounced for decades between the Hassan Town Board and the Rogers City Council and their various officeholders. It seemed to stick in 2008, when officials decided that the date of "orderly annexation" would be 2012, rather than an earlier decision for it to be 2030.
The current town board chairman said annexation is happening too quickly. Bob Ivey said officials should have waited several more years until property tax rates in both communities were closer to equal.
Rates differ sharply now, he said, and Hassan residents will face increases of about 50 percent in the city portion of their property taxes after they join Rogers.
Hassan voters who agreed with Ivey decided narrowly last September to set their property tax levy to 0.0 percent for 2012, but they'll need to pay the Rogers rate beginning in 2013.
For some, including McCrossan, the merger is "bittersweet." There's a feeling of loss, she said, but also optimism that the communities can pull together as one. She intends to continue the local historical society.
Former Town Board Supervisor Lori Ende also has mixed feelings about the changeover to Rogers. Many newcomers to Hassan don't even realize that they live in the township, she said.
Their mailing address is Rogers and their kids attend Rogers schools, and most area stores, restaurants and other amenities are in Rogers.
However, many lifelong residents remember when Hassan was a quaint and quiet little township with gravel roads, Ende said. "Just seeing that go away sort of takes an era or a generation with it," she said. Ende serves on the Rogers Planning Council, and said the city is serious about maintaining the rural character of Hassan after the township becomes part of Rogers.
"It's been quite a fight over the years, but everybody's pretty resolved now knowing that this is how it's going to be," Ende said. "Change is hard. Here we go."
Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388