Annexation meeting in Pasco draws doughnut hole residents

By Michelle Dupler, Tri-City HeraldOctober 18, 2012 

About 100 people who showed up for a meeting Wednesday about the proposed annexation of the Franklin County "doughnut hole" came looking for answers -- but not all of them had the same questions or opinions.

Some wanted to know why they wouldn't get to vote on whether they are annexed into the city of Pasco. Some wanted to know more about the taxes and fees they would pay after annexation, or how their lives would change.

The meeting at Mark Twain Elementary School was intended as a question-and-answer session for a committee of doughnut hole residents who met during the past couple of months to compare conditions between living in the county and living in the city.

The city began public discussions in July 2011 about annexing the area, which has been earmarked for future city growth since the '90s.

The doughnut hole area generally is south of Argent Road between Road 100 on the west and Road 44 to the east and Sylvester and Court streets to the south. About 4,000 people live there.

A group of doughnut hole residents who oppose annexation collected signatures to vote on incorporating their own city called Riverview as an effort to block annexation.

In response, the city council voted 4-3 on June 18 to proceed with annexing a portion of the doughnut hole with enough population to stop incorporation, which would require the new city to have at least 3,000 residents. The annexation currently under way would absorb about 1,400 people and effectively kill incorporation efforts.

A number of people who attended Wednesday's meeting expressed displeasure with the annexation method chosen by the city using powers of attorney some doughnut hole residents signed in exchange for city water service.

People in the audience said they felt coerced into signing the agreements and didn't understand why the city wouldn't let them vote on annexation.

State law allows annexation by several different methods, and City Manager Gary Crutchfield said the state Supreme Court has ruled that use of utility agreements is a valid way to annex territory.

Crutchfield said the city wasn't putting annexation to a vote because the city had put people on notice since the '90s that they would have to agree to annexation if they wanted city water.

And the city has spent money on a fire station on Road 68, improvements to the water system in the doughnut hole and took over Chiawana Park from the county in the intervening years, all in preparation for that area eventually becoming part of Pasco, Crutchfield said.

"This is not a new concept. There's nothing sneaky about it. We told everyone our plan in the early '90s," he said.

Jeff Hendler, another member of the committee, said he initially didn't like the use of water agreements but came to terms with the city's approach, which he believes makes good business sense from the city's point of view.

He added that after looking at annexation and seeing that he would pay lower rates for water and sewer as a Pasco resident, he is ready to accept annexation.

"I don't want the nonmember price. I want the member price," Hendler said.

Attendees also raised questions about zoning and code enforcement in the city versus the county. Crutchfield said the rules are the same, but the city may do more enforcement than is done by the county.

Mark MacFarlan, an incorporation proponent and the sole member of the committee who said he was against annexation, said he just wants people in the area to look at the facts and have a vote.

He said that is just what the incorporation petition would allow.

"What we're saying as a group is that as a group, we have the right to decide," MacFarlan said.

While he said the "annexation facts" document the committee produced provided accurate information, he told the audience it didn't provide all the information they would need.

For example, while the document shows property taxes would be slightly lower for residents if they are annexed into the city, it doesn't account for what they would pay in utility taxes for water, cable TV or phone services, he said.

The next step toward annexation is a public hearing on proposed zoning for the area at 7 p.m. tonight at the Pasco Planning Commission, which meets at city hall.

Then the city council is scheduled for a public hearing on annexation overall at 7 p.m. Oct. 29, also at city hall.

But annexation opponents have filed an injunction lawsuit trying to block annexation, and a judge could put a stop to it at a hearing scheduled for Monday.

On the net:

-- Annexation opponents: citizensforlifestylepreservation.org

-- Pasco annexation website: tinyurl.com/pascoannex

-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; mdupler@tricityherald.com

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