Our view: Annexation worth consideration

Emotions are high, opinions strong: "We do not live in Duluth." "Our home is Rice Lake Township." "That is where our family has lived for generations."...

Emotions are high, opinions strong: "We do not live in Duluth." "Our home is Rice Lake Township." "That is where our family has lived for generations."

It's because earlier this month, on Nov. 12, Rice Lake Township's three-member board voted unanimously to explore the idea of a partial annexation by Duluth. In the balance are about 10 square miles of township land on the south side of West Tischer Road that could become a new Duluth neighborhood as well as about 2,000 to 2,500 township residents who could become Duluthians.

The proposal seems to make sense on a lot of levels and for a lot of reasons -- especially if personal emotions can be overcome so economic and practical benefits can be seen. This would be an orderly annexation, not some hostile takeover. And the town board made the right call in agreeing to at least look into its details. A process to do that rightly and encouragingly has begun for the hopeful benefit of all.

"We're just kind of exploring," Duluth Mayor Don Ness said in an interview with News Tribune editorial board members last week. "We recognize there's a lot of emotion involved. You have to honor that. And we certainly do. This is worth having the conversation."

The conversation started at the Nov. 12 town board meeting, which was attended by Duluth Chief Administrative Officer David Montgomery. It'll continue over the next two to four months when representatives from Duluth's fire, police, public works, zoning and permitting, and other departments meet individually with township residents and officials to go over specifics. How will fire calls be handled? How will the area be zoned? What will annexation do to taxes? And what about those who serve the rural township, including heating-oil dealers, plow drivers and others? How might annexation affect them and their livelihoods? It all demands to be discussed -- and will be discussed.


With an abundance of information, Rice Lake residents then are expected to vote on whether they see the benefit of annexation and like the idea. That vote could come as soon as spring. And while it would be nonbinding, the vote's results can be followed closely by Rice Lake and Duluth officials interested in doing right by all involved.

The lengthy process, appropriately ripe with opportunities for comment and the airing of concerns, could extend into 2015 and would include a review by an administrative law judge.

"People live in this township for a reason," John Werner, chairman of the Rice Lake Township Board, told the News Tribune for a story this month. "I don't necessarily agree with everything (Duluth officials) are saying, but we've agreed to study the matter and look at all the cost factors to determine what's fact and what's fiction. ... Those of us who live here are used to a smaller form of government that's much more responsive to people's needs."

Rice Lake officials are right to be skeptical. That's responsible. It is on them to make sure a good deal is in place before a commitment is made. But an open mind over the coming months will well-serve residents, too. That's residents of both the city and the township, especially those whose home addresses could be changing.

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