By RAELYNN RICARTE
News staff writer
March 1, 2006
The City of Hood River was accused of “irresponsibly” moving ahead with a controversial annexation on Monday just to offset its $1.17 million budget deficit.
“This is a rushed process that needs to be slowed down and planned so that we can agree with it,” said resident Jeff Kopecky. “Get your house in order before you annex mine.”
At the public hearing Bob Francis, city manager, informed councilors that it made “good business sense” to proceed. He said if the elected body waited for a build-out of the 38.49 acre Willow Ponds subdivision to the south of May Drive, the increased land values would make incorporation unaffordable. He said the annexation also complied with the new council policy that required properties to be brought into the city limits before hooking up to sewer service.
“I don’t think the budget is germane to this annexation,” said Francis. “The city is not in terrible shape. The city is in manageable shape and, within the next three years, the city’s going to get where it needs to go.
At issue was the protest of citizens and the Hood River Special Districts Coalition over the city-initiated annexation. The municipality wants to extend water lines more than 650 feet to the property of Pasquale Barone. The housing tract between Rocky and Frankton roads is divided into 58 lots, most undeveloped.
Steve Everroad, city finance director, figures the annexation would bring $52,859 more in annual revenue. In addition, a one time income of $205,917 could be generated by system development charges and water and sewer hookups. He also said the city would gain about $75,293 annually for water service and franchise fees.
The city, through an intergovernmental agreement, would be required to compensate West Side Fire District and Ice Fountain Water District for lost service revenue. Everroad estimated that it would cost about $87,000 to purchase Ice Fountain’s infrastructure over time or in a lump sum. The payoff to West Side was tabulated at about $15,000 that could be paid over a five year period.
“Our final evaluation is that this annexation is favorable to the city on a number of fronts,” said Everroad.
Resident Melanie Thompson disagreed that the annexation would be a revenue-generator for the city. She said it cost more to maintain a residential base than was brought in with property taxes. She said, in light of the current budget deficit, it went against the auditor’s advice to take on any added expenditures.
“Issues vary, opinions vary, but numbers do not lie. The city simply can’t afford to go through with this annexation,” said Thompson.
Mark Beam, manager of Ice Fountain, challenged not only the financial figures given out by the city, but the amount of water pipe that would have to be installed.
He said the $87,000 only covered the infrastructure within the Barone property and not the line to the north. In addition, Beam, said the city would also have to shoulder a portion of the 12-years remaining on a $3.8 million bond repayment for installation of the water system.
He also contested the city’s assertion that it could hook up to Ice Fountain’s main line, avoiding a 400-500 foot further extension of pipe.
He said the main line to Rocky Ridge Court— left as an island in the middle of city property — was part of a loop system needed by Ice Fountain to ensure water provision.
Beam said the city had breached its contract by creating a duplication of services. He believed the city was trying to circumvent raising the ire of Rocky Ridge residents by not attempting to annex those lands — at least until they were surrounded. But, he said the result was that residents of the area were forced to pay for two water lines instead of one.
“The bottom line is that the agreement that we spent three years and hundreds of dollars working out called for these issues to be resolved before any decision was made,” said Beam.
Both Ice Fountain and West Side believe the city has fully violated the terms of the respective contracts it signed with the agencies last fall. And all citizens are ultimately going to bear the financial brunt for that wrongful action.
“People have already paid for infrastructure to be installed by Ice Fountain and now they will have to pay again for infrastructure put in place by the city,” said Beam.
In rebuttal, Francis said the annexation had been well thought out. He said residents within 300 feet of a new sewer line would be required to hook up, but the city could give needy citizens a financial break.
He also said the city would work to alleviate any problems that arose for landowners with farm animals brought under city regulations.
“I stand up here as city manager feeling a little put out, feeling a little bit insulted by some of the testimony you’ve heard tonight,” Francis told the council following public testimony.
He said meetings had been held with neighbors around Barone’s property and the special districts prior to the staff recommendation for annexation. He also said the agreement to minimize or avoid duplication of services had hinged on the fact that it would occasionally happen.
“I told the council there was going to be some political implications to this and that’s what you see here tonight,” he said.
Francis said another rationale for annexation was that the city had trouble collecting on delinquent accounts for sewer hookups outside of its jurisdiction.
“We have an obligation to get over that way to bring those properties into the city,” he said.
Francis then made an appeal to the special districts not to take an adversarial stand on the issue.
“Please don’t’ judge the city by this annexation; it’s the first one out of the chute,” he said.
In a follow-up statement, Beam said it is difficult to trust the city when it moves ahead without first nailing down details.
He said the city clearly intends to get the property annexed by March 30 in order to get it on the tax rolls by the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, 2006.
However, Beam hopes city officials will put off a decision until all of the questions have been adequately answered – even if that means waiting another year.
“We are not opposed to annexation. What we are opposed to is irresponsible annexation that costs the people more money,” he said.
The city council has continued the annexation hearing to a special session at 6 p.m. on March 20 in the municipal courtroom.
Written comments are being accepted for the record until 5p.m. next Monday.