Light rail is a long, long way from St. Bonifacius, a tiny city whose uptown and downtown are but a block apart.
The city of 2,300 sits in Hennepin County's far southwest corner, close to Carver County -- so close, in fact, that its officials are exploring how it might switch counties.
They say Carver County has lower taxes, more responsive law enforcement and no multimillion-dollar stadiums. The last straw: the new transit sales tax, which Hennepin adopted and Carver did not.
"Our tax dollars seem to find their way, very quickly, to Minneapolis and its pet projects," said Mayor Rick Weible. "I think the idea is, look, we're feeling a little left out here."
They wish the snow plows came a bit sooner and fear losing local businesses to the siren song of lower taxes just down the road.
It's a complaint that's been heard before from citizens of the rural communities of western Hennepin County.
They sometimes resent the higher cost of living they help support in the eastern big cities and suburbs.
Still, few have gone so far as to suggest changing county boundaries. And none, despite petitioning and lobbying and lawmaking, has succeeded.
But for many officials, residents and business owners in St. Bonifacius -- known to locals as "St. Boni" -- even the discussion of seceding has been exhilarating.
"It's the best damn idea I've ever heard," said Jay Gregg, longtime owner of Gregg Floor Covering. "We're sick and tired of being trapped by the Minneapolis politicians. All they care about is our tax base. And now our taxes are going to finance their light rail? That's nuts."
Breaking up can be hard to do
The most serious attempt in recent years by a city hoping to bend a county border came from Rockford, which straddles Wright and Hennepin counties. The city wanted to reduce the inefficiencies and confusion caused by being split between two counties. The allure of possibly lower taxes and more responsive police protection also fueled the effort.
Last year, the Legislature passed a measure that would allow the entire city to become a part of Wright County. However, the measure required Hennepin County's approval, and so far it has refused, with county officials saying it would set a bad precedent.
"We're still plugging away," said City Administrator Nancy Carswell. "But to be honest, I don't think we'll ever be successful."
St. Bonifacius might stand even less of a chance. The city's borders don't cross or even touch Carver County's, and city officials assume that they'd annex a narrow strip of property in Minnetrista, which surrounds the one square mile occupied by St. Bonifacius, to close the geographic gap.
But a few of the Minnetrista property owners who might be affected have expressed interest, and at least one Carver County commissioner is intrigued: Tim Lynch said that if St. Bonifacius gets the land, the county probably would welcome it.
"My gut feeling is that Carver wouldn't say no," Lynch said. "It'd be quite a feather in our county's hat. It's quite a compliment."
Hennepin County Commissioner Penny Steele, whose district includes St. Bonifacius, said she can empathize with St. Boni's concerns but doesn't believe seceding is a realistic way to address them.
"There's always a tension, especially when you have a county that spans urban to rural to suburban," Steele said. "But it's a frustration for me when cities on the outskirts don't see things beyond libraries and roads."
Lower taxes or higher values?
Carver County's taxes historically have been lower than Hennepin's. In 2007, Carver's mean effective tax rate, as measured by the nonprofit Citizens League public-policy group, was .378 percent. The Hennepin County rate for St. Bonifacius was .391 percent.
When applied to the average house in St. Bonifacius, assessed at $235,000, the difference would amount to $31 a year in savings, the Citizens League said.
But Mayor Weible argues that if St. Bonifacius were a part of Carver County, the assessed values would be lower, as well. He compared his home -- assessed at $220,000 in 2007, according to property tax records -- with houses of similar quality and size in Carver County.
While he paid $808.42 in county taxes last year, owners of the comparable houses paid $112 to $203 less, he said.
The city will spend the next month calculating these and other figures for all St. Bonifacius properties.
"We could find that overall, there's not much difference, but our guts are telling us this is worth looking at," he said, "especially when residents are telling us they're being taxed out of their homes."
But some view higher valuations as positive, too. Bob Dobihal owns the St. Boni Bistro. He opened the restaurant just this week but said he knows that someday resale might be important.
"If I'm going to sell my building, there's no doubt in my mind that my building's worth more in Hennepin County," he said. "Carver County could mean way, way west. Like 'moo' west."
St. Bonifacius has joked for years about joining Carver County, said City Council Member Terrill Anderson, who owns Grumpy's Bar in town. "We don't see much or hear much of the county," he said. "We see the plows, the paint crew -- but half the time, it's because we call them."
Because they patrol many roads that run through both counties, such as Hwy. 7, Carver County sheriff's officers drive through town frequently, too. The city's official newspaper is in Waconia, in Carver County. And the entire city is part of the Waconia School District, largely composed of Carver County kids and schools.
Of course, St. Bonifacius benefits from many Hennepin County services. Residents are immensely proud of their little library, for example.
Bob DeBoer, policy director for the Citizens League, said the city should consider the percentage of its residents who work in Hennepin County -- 57 percent, not counting those who work within St. Bonifacius itself, according to 2000 Census data. Only 22.5 percent work in Carver County.
"I find this idea of cities opting in or out of a county based on the taxes of the day troubling," DeBoer said. "To secede from Hennepin County would essentially be saying, 'Thanks for all the great infrastructure and jobs, but we don't want to pay for it.' "
Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168