Minnesota's newest city holds first election Tuesday

A new city is sprouting in Dakota County, the first new Minnesota city in more than three years.

Polls just closed at 8 p.m. Tuesday on the election that’ll convert Empire Township to the city of Empire.

A small town feel and open space have defined Empire Township since it was organized in 1858.

Ten miles of biking and hiking trails and fewer than 1000 homes criss-cross an area of less than 34 square miles.

But about 20 years ago, the town started to feel the increasing pressure of development as the South Metro grew and nearby cities like Farmington started annexing parts of what used to be a neat square map.

"One of the biggest reasons we did this, if you notice this area here is all chunked out," said Empire Town Supervisor Eric Hanson, the only supervisor who is also likely a part of the city government, running unopposed for a city council seat.

Empire itself grew from about 1300 people to 3300 since 1990.

But the future was unclear, the boundaries shaky even though the town already had its own water and sewer systems and millions of dollars saved to replace its aging water tower.

"Those are assets that could be annexed," Hanson said. "So if we didn’t do this, with the right paperwork we could lose a whole residential district that we’ve planned for to our a water tower on."

So the Empire (Township) struck back.

The town set in motion a plan to incorporate as a city and harden its borders.

Election Day and its relatively high turnout of only about 10% of residents seals the deal.

As soon as it’s certified, a mayor and four city council members will replace the three town supervisors.

Then, the 200th biggest of 913 cities in Minnesota can plan for a future where they control their own destiny and growth.

But it’s mainly just the signs that will be different.

A Dakota County sheriff’s deputy will still enforce the law.

Kids will still attend Farmington schools.

"We’ll always be part of Farmington to some degree," Hanson said.

And that includes most addresses.

Even after they change the signs at the town hall to reflect it is the Empire City Hall, its address will be in Farmington because that’s the nearest post office.