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City moves again on annexation

The Hood River City Council has taken the first step toward fulfilling its new five-year plan to annex several hundred acres of “urban fringe” properties.

On Monday, officials voted unanimously to incorporate the residential lot of Richard and Maryann Hanner that lies within the Urban Growth Area next to the city limits on Rand Place. The couple agreed to the annexation in return for the provision of city water and sewer services.

The city board also decided to resume negotiations with Westside Fire District over the transfer of fire protection services on annexed properties. These talks broke down several weeks ago when the city refused the option of binding arbitration or to extend a three-year interim funding proposal.

“We thought we had a pretty good thing going at the time and I think it would still be in our best interests to offer some kind of an agreement,” said Council Member Paul Thompson.

The city decided to adopt the new annexation methodology earlier this year after facing legal threats over the mandatory consent forms many landowners had been signing for more than 30 years. Opponents to the annexation claimed they were forced to sign these deed restrictions to purchase their homes — and not because they were willing to be incorporated. To avoid costly legal action, the city council decided to annex individual properties when the owner asked for city sewer and/or water services.

Under the new agreement, the property holder also grants permission for the parcel to be withdrawn from other fire protection and water providers.

Westside has protested the city’s move to annex urban boundary properties without a legally-binding agreement that would guarantee compensation for lost revenue. Fire district officials are concerned about the fiscal impact on the district’s annual $210,000 budget which is used to provide protection to between 2,500-3,000 taxable lots that cover 25 square miles. The fire district’s board of directors has tabulated that when the city completes its annexation project, about one-third of that budget could be lost.

However, city officials contend that Westside should not be able to draw its full 78 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation on annexed properties beyond three years when they are no longer providing services. That time period was suggested by the city to provide the fire district with time to absorb the full financial drop. Both parties have agreed that, under a permanent agreement, the fire district will sustain a decline of 10 percent a year on annexed properties until funding ceases at the end of a decade.

Although the city formally withdrew its previous offer in early October, City Manager Lynn Guenther has been given the nod to resume talks with Westside since communication between the attorneys for both parties appears to show a new willingness to resolve these sticking points. Meanwhile the clock is ticking on the appeal Westside has filed with the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals — expected to be heard within the next five weeks — over the city’s annexation of the strip of Interstate 84 along Country Club Road. The fire district believes that annexation causes a jurisdictional overlap and sets a bad precedent since it opens the door for the city to incorporate other properties with no compensatory agreement in place. Westside has offered to withdraw the appeal if at least a temporary settlement can be reached.

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