Credit River Township in Scott County will become a city in May, a decision officials say was prompted mostly by fears the township would eventually be eaten up by annexations to other cities.
The township — population 5,625, according to the most recent census estimate — is the first in Minnesota to incorporate since 2014, when Rice Lake, north of Duluth, received city status.
"If we start looking at annexation by other communities, what's left of Credit River?" said Brent Lawrence, a Credit River town board supervisor for more than a decade. "It's going to be a lot easier to protect our borders."
Credit River also is incorporating because it has been facing potential development in the north, Lawrence said, and developers will want city water and sewer services.
The switch will occur after votes are canvassed in the city's May 11 election, when Credit River residents will elect their first City Council, including a mayor and four council members.
Lawrence said most residents won't notice any day-to-day changes after the transition.
In 2018, Prior Lake annexed two small plots, totaling about 15 acres, in Credit River when their owners wanted access to the city's sewer and water to add value to the properties and attract development.
Mayor Kirt Briggs said Prior Lake never intended to annex Credit River land but agreed to do so in those cases, with several conditions, because of the property owners' wishes.
But when a third annexation application came in 2020, the Prior Lake City Council denied it, Briggs said.
"We're excited by Credit River becoming a city," he said. "We'll go up to eight cities in Scott County and that's awesome."
Lawrence said the township has been planning to incorporate since 2006, when officials formed a committee to explore the change.
The township started the transition by taking over planning and zoning duties from Scott County, including creating a 2040 Comprehensive Plan for the Metropolitan Council. A decade ago, Credit River also began appointing its clerk and treasurer, as cities do.
The town board approved a resolution stating a desire to become a city last July, and an administrative law judge entered an order incorporating the township as the city of Credit River this winter.
Credit River won't suddenly hire dozens of new city employees. It will continue to contract for snow plowing and road maintenance, have a dedicated deputy from the County Sheriff's Office and use the County Attorney's Office for prosecuting crimes.
Prior Lake's fire department will still provide services under a contract. And Credit River officials have been working with neighboring Savage to plan for eventual sewer and water hookups.
"If you like Credit River the way it is as a township, you'll like how Credit River is as a city," Lawrence said.
Steve Fenske, general counsel for the Minnesota Association of Townships, said they "hate to lose any township," though there are times when "it makes good sense," including when more density and development are expected or a city wants municipal water services, a municipal liquor store or to collect local sales taxes.
He said it's unfortunate that becoming a city is the only way some townships can avoid annexation.
He noted that township residents will no longer be able to set their annual property tax levy by direct vote, though Lawrence said only about 15 people ever showed up to vote on the levy anyway.
And Credit River soon will be eligible for state funds from several new sources, including through Local Government Aid, township officials said.
There's more interest in running for City Council seats than there was for the township board, Lawrence said. "I think that there's a lot of excitement," he said.
Erin Adler • 612-673-1781