By Jennifer Kotila,
Staff Writer, Kristen Miller, Editor
KINGSTON, MN The residents of the city of Kingston will be asked whether or not they support dissolving the city and being absorbed by Kingston Township in a special election Tuesday, March 12.
The vote comes after a petition, signed by 32 residents, or 49 percent of the voting population of Kingston, was received by the Municipal Adjustment Boundary Unit July 30, 2012.
A public hearing regarding the petition took place Sept. 21, 2012, presided over by Judge James LaFave. After the public hearing, LaFave ruled that a vote regarding the dissolution should take place.
Residents may have signed the petition because they believe there is not a benefit to having a second government, and that the city is a redundant governing body.
But Kingston Mayor Jim Herda said it is false that residents within Kingston city limits are paying for two governments the township and the city.
“They only pay for one government the city,” he added.
The current city council and Herda are against the dissolution of the city, Herda said.
“I think we have to maintain our autonomy and our identity as a small city,” he added, saying the decision-making for the community should remain with the city, not be made by the township government.
“The voices of the citizens will not be as loud they will be diluted by other voices in the township,” Herda said.
One of the first signers of the petition to dissolve Kingston, Deborah Harms, writes in a letter to the editor that she has since changed her mind about the dissolution (read her letter on the viewpoints page).
When she signed, she was under the impression the city would have problems filling leadership positions, and the city was no longer viable.
But now, there is a full council and mayor elected by the residents, and the Kingston Mini-Mart is slated to open this spring.
Petitioners may have signed the petition due to perceived tax savings by eliminating the city government, which does not provide police and fire protection, or sewer and water service to its residents.
Herda does not think the tax savings will be as much as petitioners think it will be, because the township will have to increase its taxes to pay for the needs of the city and the township, he said.
In her letter, Harms notes that she contacted the county auditor to research how much would actually be saved in taxes, and it appears it will be even less than what residents have been told.
According to Meeker County Commissioner Mike Housman and his analysis of the city and township levies, residents of the city could save about $100 per year on property taxes if the city were dissolved.
“That is just an educated guess; I have not looked at the property values to calculate a true average,” he said.
If he were a resident in the city of Kingston, he would be asking himself, “What is the trade-off?” Housman said.
“Do they want to lose the autonomy of being a city, and have their voice lost in the sea of township residents?” Housman asked.
“Since I am in the township, of course, I get no vote on this matter,” Housman added. “If I did live in the city, it would be a difficult decision.”
He noted that he really likes local control, and it would be difficult to give that up for $100 per year.
“But, there are some bigger expenses coming in the future with street repairs and the like. Getting out now and saddling the township with those expenses might be the best for their pocketbook,” Housman commented.
Some residents are concerned about the bridge within the city limits, Herda noted.
The city also owns certificates of deposits totaling approximately $90,000 to use in case the road or town bridge need repair.
Herda noted the bridge was recently repaired and will last another 60 to 70 years.
Harms cites recent progress and improvements within the city, saying, “Things are looking really good for Kingston now, and I encourage everyone to get out to vote ‘Against Dissolution’ of the city of Kingston.”
Kingston Township Clerk Gail Schiefelbein noted that dissolving the city would create a larger tax base for the township, but wouldn’t have any negative impacts on the township.
Nothing in the township would have to change, because the county handles all the planning and zoning.
For example, if a business wanted to move into the area, the county would handle the permitting and other regulatory procedures.
“The sad part is, there wouldn’t be a city,” Schiefelbein said. “It would be sad for them to lose what they have, but there just aren’t that many people there anymore.”
As of 2011, the city’s population was 161 residents in 61 households. Kingston Township has 1,248 residents in 436 households.
Besides the certificates of deposit, other city assets include a ball field and playground, the lot the war memorial sits on, a pump house, a fire hydrant (which Harms noted saved her $300 per year for house insurance), and a portion of the Kingston Community Center, which is co-owned with the Kingston American Legion and Kingston Township.
Crunching the numbers with Meeker County Auditor Barb Loch, the 2013 rate on tax capacity for city of Kingston residents is 33.026 percent. That is taking into consideration the tax capacity of $64,030, and the current levy of $21,146.
The 2013 rate on tax capacity for township residents is 15.92 percent. That is taking into consideration the township’s tax capacity of $1,639,83, and the levy of $261,098.
The combined tax rate with both of the tax capacities and levies would be 16.56 percent, or half of the current city’s tax rate.
For example, a home with a value of $82,000, would pay $174 under the current taxes. Combined with the township, it would be $85, for a total of $90 in savings.
To check the individual savings, Loch suggested a fair estimate would be taking the proposed 2013 statement property owners received in November, and cutting in half the proposed property tax for City of Kingston.
The question on the ballot will read, “Shall the city of Kingston dissolve and the territory thereof become the jurisdiction of Kingston Township?”
The vote will take place Tuesday, March 12 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Kingston Community Center, 30840 722nd Avenue, Kingston.