The Hood River City Council admitted on Monday that it had learned a tough lesson in "Annexation 101" from its constituents.
"This has been a huge learning curve for us as well as you," said Councilor Andrea Klaas to more than 80 audience members. "Unfortunately, this was sort of an exercise in bad communication, I feel."
City officials arrived at the new conclusion after they were unable to stem citizen fears by providing financial data about the actual costs involved in a takeover of irrigation, domestic water and emergency services.
"It is important that people's voices are heard and we do listen," said Mayor Paul Cummings.
At the Feb. 12 hearing, the council voted to incorporate only about 45 acres at the western edge of the city. The majority of that property lies along Interstate 84 sewer right-of-way. But it also includes the 1.95 acres housing Harvey's Texaco and the Timber Crest Development of slightly less than once acre, which is sited near the Country Club Road and West Cascade Avenue junction.
"I don't feel comfortable with the fiscal side (of an expanded annexation), I feel we have a greater responsibility to city residents," said Councilor Carrie Nelson.
The latest change followed the Jan. 30 approval by the City Planning Commission to proceed with incorporation of 188 acres, which had already been reduced from last summer's proposal of 475 acres.
However, it still met with strong opposition from Rachel Harvey, operator of the involved Texaco station. Harvey said that if the city required a downsizing of the freestanding commercial sign along I-84 the business would be forced to shut down and the 44 employees would be left jobless.
Alexandra Sosnkowski, city attorney, said the sign would have to be replaced to comply with the current sign code. However, she said Doug Hattenhauer, owner of the property leased by the Harveys, would have the same seven-year grace period to comply that had been afforded to other Hood River businesses. Hattenhauer recently spent about $20,000 on the current advertisement and has asked to be included in the city's less stringent freeway zone -- a request that officials will consider at a later date.
"Whether we lose that sign now or in seven years from now, we will go under without it," warned Harvey.
Guenther said staffers pared the annexation proposal down yet again after it became clear that only a limited area would allow a smooth transition of services at this time. For example, he learned earlier this month that it would cost the municipality about $609,000 to run water lines to residences currently served by Farmers Irrigation District. The local water provider is not allowed by state law to provide untreated water to properties incorporated into the city limits.
After hearing almost two hours of testimony and reviewing stacks of opposition letters and even a legal threat from Westside Fire District, the city council decided to slow down the annexation process. They settled on developing a five-year "urban fringe" plan that would allow better communication with residents.
The first reading of the annexation ordinance will take place at the regular city meeting on Feb. 25 (next week's special session was canceled due to lack of a quorum). On Feb. 26 the second reading will be given in a special meeting.
The annexation is expected to go into effect on June 1 and raise about $4,140 in revenue.