Doughnut hole annexation petition may go to voters

By Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldAugust 30, 2013 

Pasco is calling a petition to reverse two recent annexations in the area known as the "doughnut hole" invalid but is planning to put it before voters in the general election.

City attorney Leland Kerr sent a letter last month to Franklin County Auditor Matt Beaton, who had validated a petition calling for the vote. The city claimed the petition submitted in June with 1,842 signatures was invalid because the legal description of the city and map included in the petition didn't match.

The city also said that state law requires petitions on reducing city limits to go through the city council for review first.

"Having done that we could have said the legal description and the map conflict," City Manager Gary Crutchfield told the Herald. "I guess the county doesn't feel like that's an important process."

Because members of the group Citizens for Lifestyle Preservation filed the petition directly with the auditor, the city had to review the petition after it was approved. Crutchfield said that's when they found the irregularities.

The city considered challenging the ballot measure, but the council is scheduled to vote Tuesday to allow the issue to go before voters in November.

But the city will retain the right to challenge the questionable parts of the petition later on, Mayor Matt Watkins said.

"There are technical issues with what they submitted, but we want to reserve the right of the voters to decide," he said.

The map submitted by petitioners doesn't include two recently annexed areas outside the doughnut hole -- one along the Columbia River that the city brought in to house a water intake and the other in east Pasco, where residents asked to be part of the city so they could get city services.

Watkins said the city wants to make sure those areas remain part of the city, even if voters approve deannexing the doughnut hole areas.

Petition organizer Roger Lenk, co-founder of the lifestyle preservation group, said cities have little choice on placing deannexations on the ballot.

"It doesn't say, 'You make a determination whether it's right or wrong.' You put it on the ballot," he told the Herald earlier this week.

Lenk said his group used city-designed maps in its petition.

The petitioners likely used a map that the city used by mistake early in the annexation process, Watkins said. It was changed after officials noticed the errors.

The issue must be resolved by Wednesday to allow time for processing before the general election, Beaton said in a response letter to the city.

Petitioners followed the rules for a second ballot measure they submitted, which would create a mayor-council form of government if approved, eliminating the city manager-led government Pasco now has, Crutchfield said.

One of the disputed annexations went into effect Jan. 1, adding an area between roads 52 and 68, south of a Franklin County Irrigation District canal. It absorbed about 1,400 of the 4,000 residents of the doughnut hole area that is surrounded by the western part of Pasco. The annexation thwarted efforts by Lenk's group to create a new city called Riverview since incorporation requires at least 3,000 residents.

The vote would also aim to nullify a 2009 annexation of an area at Court Street and Road 76.

Opponents of the 2013 annexation also filed a lawsuit opposing the move in September 2012. Lenk has said it isn't expected to be heard until after the election.

The council meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the city hall first floor council chambers, 525 N. Third Ave.

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