BAXTER -- Minnesota Planning representatives visited separately with Baxter and Brainerd officials Monday to sell its merger process to the two cities.
Christine Scotillo, executive director of municipal boundary adjustments for Minnesota Planning, visited with officials from the two cities because she said her office has been receiving a number of calls about merging the two cities.
Merging two cities, or even conducting a merger study, is not a simple task. There are several steps involved.
The first step is initiating a merger study. This can be done one of three ways -- through joint resolution from both cities, through directive of the director of Minnesota Planning or through a citizens' petition to Minnesota Planning.
The petitions for each city must be signed by at least 5 percent of residents who voted for governor in the last general election.
According to the Crow Wing County Auditor's office, Brainerd had 4,620 voters in the 1998 gubernatorial election, Baxter had 2,440. The 5 percent of residents' signatures needed for each city would be 231 from Brainerd and 122 from Baxter.
The next step would involve establishing a study commission. When Minnesota Planning receives a petition from a resident or resolution by both councils, a commission will be formed of at least 10 candidates nominated by each council. Each city will nominate three Crow Wing County citizens, who cannot be residents of either city, to chair the commission.
The commission will have up to two years to study the advantages and disadvantages of merging the two cities using 14 factors established by Minnesota Planning. The factors address various aspects of city government such as government services.
After a final report is completed, Minnesota Planning would hold public hearings, and then Minnesota Planning Director Dean Barkley will decide whether to order consolidation, reject consolidation or direct the commission to further study the issue.
If the process was initiated by residents' petitions or by direction of Minnesota Planning's director, final approval of merging is up to the city councils. A majority vote by each council would be required.
If the process was initiated by a resolution from both cities, the director's order would be final.
In all three cases, merger can be defeated through petition signed by 10 percent of the Brainerd and Baxter residents who voted in the 1998 general election.
Once a commission is formed, neither city can back out of the process.
Scotillo said the average cost for a merger study is $12,000-$15,000.
The Brainerd City Council has already authorized $10,000 for a merger study. The Baxter City Council has looked at several options considering the merger study question.
"Our concern is we haven't been able to identify tangible benefits," said Baxter City Administrator Larry Kruse about a possible merger, but agreed that a merger study would answer questions for certain. "...In studying it, it can be a good thing."
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