Straddling two counties can be a bit awkward

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY
  • Star Tribune
  • February 7, 2008 - 10:31 PM

The northernmost city in Hennepin County is also in Wright County -- making Dayton one of only five Minnesota cities designated as being in both "metro" and "outstate" areas. For government officials involved, it's not always the best of both worlds.

"It's hard enough dealing with so many regulations when two counties are involved," said Nancy Carswell, city administrator for Rockford, another city that straddles Hennepin and Wright counties.

But for Dayton, the dual identity is doubly confusing: Dayton is the only city that deals with both the Metropolitan Council and the state demographer's office when tracking all-important census numbers that can make or break a city's chances of securing grants.

"I wouldn't characterize anything as a disadvantage," said Samantha Orduno, Dayton's city administrator. "But there is a lot of duplication."

And occasionally a bit of confusion. The Metropolitan Council oversees the seven counties of Hennepin, Ramsey, Anoka, Washington, Carver, Scott and Dakota -- meaning it does census counting for the Hennepin County section of Dayton.

State demographer Tom Gillaspy oversees the population estimates in the Wright County portion of Dayton.

"It does cause some issues," Gillaspy said, referring to the city of slightly more than 5,000 that borders the Mississippi River to the north and the Crow River to the west. "Population estimates are used for a variety of funding formulas and it complicates matters to be getting numbers from two different sources."

City councils in Rockford and Hanover, which also are located in both Hennepin and Wright counties, have skirted the issue. Both cities voted to dissolve their associations with the Met Council.

In fact, Rockford has gone a step further, trying to change county boundaries and leave Hennepin County altogether -- a move, Carswell said, that was approved by Wright County but rejected by Hennepin.

"Hennepin offers more resources, election training and is faster with assessed market values, but we have public-safety issues since we contract for police through Wright County," Carswell said. She explained that Rockford's Hennepin County residents who call 911 occasionally wait for long periods for public-safety officials who might be coming from afar. Wright County residents in Rockford get service that the city has contracted.

Hanover is content to be located in both counties, said City Administrator Dan Buchholtz. Although two-thirds of the city is in Wright County, Hanover has benefitted from Hennepin County grant money and from the county's high-tech communications system.

Competing for grants

But when competing for Hennepin County grants, Hanover often is overlooked when trying to peer over the shoulders of Minneapolis and large inner-ring suburbs, Buchholtz said. And folks living on Hanover's Hennepin County east side also face tax "disadvantages'' -- a higher property tax rate than their Wright County counterparts.

Northfield and New Prague also fall into the metro-outstate category, but neither is affiliated with the Met Council.

Northfield straddles the Dakota-Rice County border, with about 80 percent considered outstate, said City Administrative Al Roder. And New Prague has never been considered part of the metro area, even if part of the city is in Scott County, with the remainder in Le Sueur County.

"The statute that defines the Metropolitan Council specifically includes Scott County, with the exception of New Prague," said City Manager Jerry Bohnsack.

"In 1978, New Prague asked to be excluded," Bohnsack explained. "Back in those days, we were treated as two communities. We needed to be treated as one. That's enough."

Ask officials in Mankato or St. Cloud. There are 44 Minnesota cities located in more than one county, but Mankato and St. Cloud are both divided by three.

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419

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