Officials in the north metro city of Champlin who say they are frustrated with Hennepin County's lack of responsiveness to their city's needs are contemplating a dramatic solution: attempting to secede from Hennepin County.
Champlin, which is across the Mississippi River from Anoka County, has a population of 23,000.
"As mayor, I'm extremely serious [that] something needs to happen," said Ryan Sabas, Champlin's mayor, in an email. "We can't keep paying in without a return here in Champlin."
Sabas said the city first discussed the idea Monday in a council work session because of Champlin's "inability to gain any ground" in getting Hennepin County to help fund capital improvement projects — particularly road projects — the city desperately needs.
He said the city is getting no money from the county over the next four years for any capital projects. The city has asked to partner with the county on road projects multiple times without success, he said, mentioning a proposal to share the cost of constructing a roundabout at the intersection of French Lake Road and County Road 121.
Dayton Road, West River Road and Winnetka Avenue "are all inadequate when it comes to use and safety," he said.
"Time and time again, Hennepin County fails to be a partner in any capital projects, even when it comes to their own infrastructure," Sabas said. "Where are Champlin's share of county tax dollars going?"
Joining Anoka County would be the most logical option, Sabas said, but the city hasn't had any formal conversations with county officials there.
Anoka County spokesman Erik Thorson confirmed in an email that the county has not discussed the issue with Champlin leaders and noted that "the process of altering county jurisdictions is complex and should be approached with careful consideration of the interests and needs of all involved parties."
The point of the work session was to find out if secession is even an option, Sabas said, and determine how to improve the city's relationship with Hennepin County so the county can see the "inequities that are occurring year after year."
There was no direction given to city staff at the work session, he said, and next steps include simply having more conversations on the topic. After that, one step might be to form a resident commission to weigh pros and cons of secession.
Hennepin County spokeswoman Carolyn Marinan said in a statement that the county "wasn't aware of what transpired" at Champlin's meeting this week.
"We have had numerous conversations over this past year with city officials about transportation, other issues and opportunities," she said. "We value Champlin and all our city partners and residents in Hennepin County."
It's not clear what steps Champlin would take if it does decide to attempt to leave Hennepin County.
Sabas said that according to the city's attorneys, one option would be to get Champlin's legislative delegation to sponsor a bill related to Champlin seceding from Hennepin County. But that idea is unrealistic, Sabas said.
Another possibility would require Champlin to get 25% of the voters in the last Hennepin and Anoka county elections to petition for a secession question to appear on both county's ballots, he said.
"That would be a very huge undertaking," he said
In 2000, Pine County — about 60 miles north of St. Paul — tried to create a new county but 78% of voters were against the idea, a Champlin memo said.
Sabas said officials from other outer suburbs of Hennepin County also feel they get "stiffed on funding" from the county.
Dennis Fisher, mayor of Dayton, said though he thinks the secession idea is a little far-fetched, his city has similar concerns about county support for road work and other projects.
"I know exactly where [Champlin] is coming from and my guess is a lot of the municipalities on the north side [of the county] would say the same thing," Fisher said.
"We dump a lot of revenue into the county," he said, citing the city's median home value of almost $500,000.
The county seems focused on core cities and suburbs, he said.
"It just seems like the county is slow to come to the table," Fisher said.
He told a Champlin City Council member to keep him posted on what their city figures out, because several council members in Dayton would probably consider the secession idea.
"I know the residents would take a serious look at it," he said.