MANKATO — Crumbling infrastructure and, particularly, failing septic systems are going to continue to push rural subdivisions outside of Mankato city limits to pursue connection to the municipal sewer system in the years ahead.
The expensive and sometimes contentious annexations have been coming regularly in recent years. Schaefer's subdivision and other Lime Township properties totaling 74 parcels on Mankato's north side came into the city in 2013 and 2014, and South View Heights is adding about 60 more on the southwest side this year.
"We already have some annexations in Lime Township that will come in 2018," said City Manager Pat Hentges of the targeted properties on the city's north side.
And residents of the next subdivision south of South View along Stoltzman Road — the Stoney Creek area — are having preliminary discussions.
"They're studying, as a longer-term investment, whether it makes sense to put in municipal improvements," he said.
Other rural neighborhoods of the same era are scattered just outside the city, often along scenic ravines or rivers, and are likely to be facing the same expensive septic system upgrades that prompted annexations like Schaefer's subdivision and South View.
"I can pretty much say that most of the subdivisions within a mile or so will probably eventually be hooked up to municipal sewer, maybe water ...," Hentges said.
Because failing septic systems can cause water pollution and other environmental damage, homeowners often are being pressured by state and county environmental regulators to get the systems fixed.
"It's the same thing the lake associations are going through," Hentges said of the lakeside communities northeast of Mankato that have installed sewer pipes and pumping stations to transport their waste to Mankato's treatment plant.
South View, after declining a previous opportunity to hook up when nearby Stoltzman Road was reconstructed in 2001, crunched the numbers and petitioned the city last year to be annexed. Septic system failures were one of several factors, said Grant Moody, who serves on South View's board of directors.
The streets through South View only had a year or two of life left, its small water tower and well system were rusting away, and many of the septic systems needed substantial upgrades.
"It was just all deteriorating," Moody said. "But the major factor for me was that over 80 percent of our septic tanks were not compliant."
The immediate cost of annexation in 2001 would have been about $13,000 per property, a number that rose to $44,000 by 2016. Delaying the annexation didn't seem prudent, and the availability of nearly $1 million in state pollution-control funding allowed the assessment to be reduced to roughly $29,000 per lot if South View acted now, Moody said.
"I think you just have to weigh the costs and benefits," he said of other rural subdivisions facing the same challenges.
Along with the assessments, annexation brings higher taxes, monthly water and sewer bills and additional regulations, he said. But it also brings lower insurance costs because the subdivision will have firefighting service from nearby Mankato rather than distant St. Clair. And, when the sewer hook-ups are completed later this summer, residents will be able to flush and forget.
Moody said he and other South View residents love their scenic, quiet neighborhood, and he hopes the group remains tight-knit as it has for 50 years while basically operating like its own "sovereign nation."
"We've had a great neighborhood," he said. "Everybody gets along, we work very well together."
Moody has no complaints about the sometimes complex process of annexation, complimenting Mankato city officials.
"They've done a great job," he said. "The city's been very helpful."
For other subdivisions that choose to continue to go it alone, Moody has only one piece of advice: Set aside money over time for the inevitable sticker shock when infrastructure needs to be replaced.
"If subdivisions don't want to be annexed, I think they have to financially prepare," he said.
And Mankato needs to prepare, as well, for those that decide they have little choice but to sign up for city services. While assessments cover a majority of the cost, the city has to come up with the millions of dollars needed up front to install the sewer and water systems and reconstruct the streets.
The Lime Township annexation approved in 2013 topped $3 million with residents paying about 60 percent of the cost through assessments. Two-thirds of the $2.6 million South View project was financed with assessments, and the pollution-control grant covered another 25 percent.
Along with Stoney Creek, the most likely neighborhoods to join the city in coming years are those listed in "Area 1" of a 2013 annexation agreement between Mankato and Mankato Township. "Area 1" subdivisions are almost exclusively immediately south and southwest of the city — Meadow Wood, Woodview Heights, West Sunset, Ballards Oak Ridge Area, and Ballard and Corey. Also in "Area 1" are a few properties on the opposite side of Mankato — on the north end not far from the Mankato Golf Club.
"Area 1" properties can become part of Mankato if 66 percent of property owners in a subdivision petition to be annexed. "Area 2" properties are in more distant parts of Mankato Township and can be annexed if Mankato grows to the extent the rural subdivisions are surrounded by the city and if both the Township Board and council approve the annexation.
While there are plenty of existing subdivisions of various ages the city may need to adopt in coming years and decades, there won't be any new ones. Annexation agreements and county land-use plans prohibit new rural subdivisions that depend on septic systems for waste disposal.