Franklin County postpones decision on doughnut hole incorporation vote

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldDecember 6, 2012 

Residents of the Franklin County land surrounded by city of Pasco boundaries will have to wait more than a month to find out if their effort to get a vote on incorporating the proposed city of Riverview is successful.

On Wednesday, Franklin County commissioners unanimously approved postponing a decision on the incorporation petition until Jan. 23.

Roger Lenk, co-founder of Citizens for Lifestyle Preservation, which filed the petition, asked commissioners to postpone the hearing to give the group time to look at the population figures from the city of Pasco.

Pasco city attorney Lee Kerr told commissioners that there no longer are enough residents in the so-called county doughnut hole for the incorporation efforts to continue.

When the Pasco City Council approved an ordinance to annex part of the doughnut hole Oct. 29, Kerr said that action removed about 1,500 residents from the area, dropping the remaining population below the 3,000 required for incorporation within 5 miles of Pasco's boundaries.

Kerr asked commissioners to dismiss the petition. He said the area also fails the requirement for an incorporated city to be contiguous. There were two islands, and with Pasco's recent annexation, that has increased to three.

The ordinance, which goes into effect Jan. 1, incorporates a central portion of the doughnut hole that completely divides the remaining unincorporated land, he said.

Lenk said the group still believes there are enough residents inside the remaining portions of the doughnut hole, and there are other areas that could be included in the incorporation boundary.

But David McDonald, Pasco city planner, said the doughnut hole area included about 4,079 people prior to the annexation. That is based on 2010 census data and the homes that have been built since then, he said.

With the recent annexation, which incorporated 528 homes of the 1,440 in the unincorporated area, that leaves just under 2,600 people in the three islands, McDonald said.

Ryan Verhulp, the county's chief civil deputy prosecutor, said the commissioners can add to the boundaries of an incorporation effort if the area is not part of a city boundary and is contiguous.

Commission Chairman Brad Peck suggested the time extension also would give time for a Franklin County Superior Court decision on a lawsuit filed by the Citizens for Lifestyle Preservation.

The city of Pasco has asked for the case to be dismissed. The city argues that Citizens for Lifestyle Preservation's claims that the city mishandled the annexation process are unfounded.

A decision from Superior Court Judge Carrie Runge is expected.

Peck said since dismissing the petition would end the current incorporation efforts, it makes sense to wait until the decision is issued. It doesn't seem to disadvantage the city and doesn't delay annexation, he said.

Kerr said waiting won't make the area contiguous.

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

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 in June to proceed with annexing a portion of the doughnut hole.

The Franklin County Auditor's Office found the petition was sufficient Oct. 12. Residents had submitted 811 valid signatures, about three times the 268 required, according to county documents.

Also Wednesday, commissioners unanimously approved hiring Lawrence Hueter to be the project manager for the county jail remodel and expansion project. Hueter has more than 30 years in construction and experience with corrections facilities, said Fred Bowen, county administrator.

-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com

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