Franklin County commissioners deny petition for new city

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 5, 2013 

Franklin County commissioners Monday denied a petition signed by hundreds of west Pasco "doughnut hole" residents to vote on incorporating their own city.

The commissioners cited the city of Pasco's annexation of part of the area when making their decision, as the proposed city no longer fits boundaries the petitioners submitted, nor would it have enough residents.

"I don't know if the board has any other choice but to recognize that annexation has taken place," said Commissioner Brad Peck.

A Franklin County Superior Court judge has yet to rule on a lawsuit seeking to stop annexation. Commissioners said it would be unfortunate for the board to rule against the petition when the court could rule in supporters' favor.

But the county, which has delayed the matter several times already, had reached the end of its 60-day legal window to hold public hearings and consider a decision, commissioners said, and no immediate resolution is in sight for the lawsuit.

"I apologize for the work you'll have to do, but we have to do this," Chairman Rick Miller told the petitioners at the end of Monday's hearing.

The incorporation petition for the city of Riverview was submitted to Franklin County Auditor Matt Beaton in October. He verified it had enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Public hearings were held in December and January, with several postponements because of the lawsuit and uncertainty about what Pasco's annexation meant for the petition. State law requires that the new city have at least 3,000 residents, and the annexation pulled about 1,400 of the doughnut hole's 4,000 residents into Pasco.

Leland Kerr, Pasco city attorney, submitted a letter to the board at the meeting calling on the commissioners to reject the petition, as annexation had made it invalid.

"The mere filing of litigation creates no presumption that the litigation is valid," Kerr wrote in his letter.

Doughnut hole resident and organizer Roger Lenk criticized the city for inaction on the lawsuit.

"The city has slow-walked this," he said.

Commissioners considered delaying a decision to give the city and doughnut hole residents time to resolve the lawsuit. However, neither party is required to force the case ahead of a trial, the commissioners said, and either one could seek action, not just the city.

"If neither side is going to push this, it puts us into a precarious position," said Commissioner Bob Koch.

There's also a possibility the county could face legal action if it didn't meet the timeline for a decision as called for in state law, said Ryan Verhulp of the county prosecutor's office.

"It's better for the county to make a decision today," Miller said.

Peck said that he saw the situation as a tie and that "in baseball, tie goes to the runner and in politics tie goes to the citizen," but he didn't see how the board could continue to delay a decision.

Lenk told the board he thought a decision to reject the petition would lead to a loss of goodwill in the doughnut hole.

"It was a Herculean effort to get 982 signatures," he said.

-- Reporter Michelle Dupler contributed to this report.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver

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