On March 12, 2013, residents of the City of Kingston voted on whether to dissolve the city and become part of Kingston Township. The exact question was: “Shall the City of Kingston dissolve and the territory thereof become the jurisdiction of Kingston Township.”
With just 100 registered voters in the city, the question failed with a vote of 36 against and 23 for dissolution.
There are arguments on both sides of the issue. In such a small community, the tax base is small; the number of taxable properties is quite limited. While there are young families now living in Kingston, many residents are in their older years. There are few businesses in town; commercial properties often bear a greater proportion of taxes in larger communities.
The biggest argument for dissolution was the potential for reduced property taxes. One resident calculated that her savings would be $117 per year with lowered taxes in the city, while taxes for township residents would increase slightly (absorbing expenses of the city).
One reason to not dissolve the city is maintaining the town’s autonomy. Once absorbed into the township, decisions for the city would be made by the Kingston Township board rather than a city council. It is feared that the wishes of city residents could be lost in the larger township government.
To bring the issue up for election again would require another petition. Those who initiated the petition and effort for this month’s vote likely will not do so again, at least not soon.
What remains to be seen are expenses that may hit the city of 161 people. The downtown bridge over the North Fork of the Crow River is city-owned, not county. If the state inspects the bridge and orders repairs or replacement of the bridge, that expense would be born by the city alone. Likewise, if the city is ordered to install city sewer service, this would be a city expense.
Another concern is law enforcement: Meeker County currently patrols and protects the city of Kingston, and does not bill the city (as it does the township). If they were to bill the city for their services, it would be at city expense.
The city has about 1.2 miles of paved road that are not county or township roads. Resurfacing of these roads is a city expense.
With an annual budget of about $40,000, and about half that coming from Local Government Aid, the city would be severely impacted by cuts or elimination of LGA by the State of Minnesota. This has not yet happened, but it’s long been a threat hanging over cities across Minnesota. (The city’s annual expenses include street lighting, half of maintenance costs of the Kingston Community Center which is co-owned with Kingston Township, city road maintenance, and fire protection with the City of Dassel.)
Mayor John Herda says the city has $100,000 set aside in CDs, but that could quickly be consumed by any of the above-mentioned “extra” expenses.
Another reason that some favored dissolution of the city has to do with numbers, numbers of people available to run for office. Each time a council or mayor seat comes available, they argue, it’s hard to find enough people to run for office. In a town of 161 people, many of whom are either senior citizens, children, or very busy adults, it’s hard to get enough people together to run city government. If the city was governed by the township, there would be only one set of individuals for government, and a larger pool from which to draw.
For the time being, the City of Kingston remains. We can only hope for the best, with no state-imposed but city-funded improvements.