A small town surrounded: Tiny town circled by Fargo relishes its independence
PRAIRIE ROSE — Three hours before a 1978 state law went into effect barring a new city to incorporate with fewer than 200 people, Prairie Rose was founded.
That tiny dot on a Cass County map completely surrounded by Fargo isn’t a neighborhood of Fargo. It’s a tiny but independent city with 21 houses and 73 residents. It has a geographical footprint of just 0.04 square miles — equal to a square of about 1,050 feet on each side.
There’s a lot the city doesn’t have: a police department, fire department or retail businesses. It doesn’t have a City Hall, so civic meetings gather at the mayor’s house. Its annual budget is about $14,000.
Fargo is rapidly expanding south, but there is no effort by residents in Prairie Rose to join their all-encompassing neighbor.
Prairie Rose was founded in 1975 and it was incorporated in 1978.
"We became a city for a very specific reason, and that was basically to not be bullied by the city of Fargo," said 35-year Prairie Rose resident Bob Staloch, who also serves as the auditor.
Staloch said that when the first residents moved in, they asked Fargo about providing services and Fargo’s response was not to their liking. The response gave residents the sense that Fargo was going to forcibly annex the community at one point.
Shortly after that exchange, residents found a lawyer to draw up articles of incorporation, and Prairie Rose was born.
The incorporation was met with some resistance from Fargo at the time, Staloch said.
The incorporation came just hours before a state law passed that required a city to have at least 200 residents before it could incorporate.
Staloch said they barely met the deadline, and the state attorney general sided with Prairie Rose.
So they became an official, albeit tiny, city.
There was one short-lived attempt to merge Prairie Rose and Fargo in 1996.
The move was proposed by Prairie Rose residents, who voted on whether to start a merger committee. The merger committee vote was the first of two votes that had to take place in order for the two cities to merge.
The vote on a committee to study a merger, which would have amounted to an annexation by Fargo, failed overwhelmingly, with only a few residents voting in favor of it, said Fargo’s director of planning and development, Jim Gilmour, who worked for Fargo at the time.
Fargo voters voted in favor of forming a merger committee, but both cities had to approve starting a merger committee for further discussions and a second vote to happen.
"Some of the reasons why there is not an interest in annexation is the Prairie Rose City Council has always worked to keep taxes low, and annexation into Fargo would dramatically increase the resident taxes without many benefits to its residents," said former Prairie Rose Mayor Penny Kianian, who now lives in the Twin Cities.
Nothing to gain
Since the 1996 merger discussions, Prairie Rose residents and city officials in Fargo haven’t broached the possibility again.
Both sides say there is really no reason for the cities to merge at this point.
"Fargo doesn’t have much to gain by annexing," Gilmour said.
Prairie Rose residents pay lower taxes than Fargoans, and they enjoy their independence and small-town feel.
"It’s amazing how much a town that is completely surrounded by a suburban city like Fargo can still retain that small-town feel," said Mayor Greg Holman, who has lived in Prairie Rose for five years.
City designation also gives Prairie Rose more of a voice, especially concerning issues that would adversely affect its residents.
Kianian said cityhood allowed Prairie Rose to disrupt Fargo’s wish to build an on and off ramp at 40th Avenue South.
The addition of the ramps would have meant the loss of several properties in Prairie Rose, she said.
A few drawbacks of independence are related to emergency services.
Prairie Rose isn’t served by Fargo’s police or fire departments. In the event of a serious emergency, Fargo could respond, but only if requested by the Cass County Sheriff’s Department or the Horace Rural Volunteer Fire District.
Since July 2011, there have only been 12 calls for emergency service in the city.
Fire insurance in Prairie Rose also is higher, Gilmour said, because Horace’s fire station is 7.4 miles away. Fargo has two stations within 2 miles of the city and is considering building another close by.
When Prairie Rose incorporated, Staloch said the city opted to use Horace’s services because they were closer at the time.
Fargo Fire Chief Steven Dirksen said a Prairie Rose official contacted him recently inquiring about fire service, but no formal requests from Prairie Rose concerning fire service have been made.
Fargo had just over 60,000 residents in 1980 and did not extend nearly as far south as it does today. Today, new developments surround the city, but Prairie Rose has managed to avoid becoming a thoroughfare.
There are two entrances to the city. Both roads that go through the city are dead ends, causing many drivers to make U-turns in driveways, Staloch said.
The city’s only two parks, named Prairie Park and Rose Park, block the only possible through streets in the city.
Residents are quick to point out Prairie Rose is distinct from Fargo.
"The thing that struck us was that as soon as you crossed that line into the town, it didn’t feel like Fargo anymore," Holman said.
It’s not hard to miss the small city. There are only a couple of small signs that say "City of Prairie Rose."
The noticeable differences are the larger lots, narrow streets and lack of businesses.
"We get all of the benefits of proximity to a large city, but can still keep that small-town charm. That can’t be replicated anywhere else," Holman said.