Annexation bill dies in state House

By Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 5, 2014 

A bill that would have changed the way Washington cities annex unincorporated areas failed Wednesday in a state House of Representatives committee.

The 5-4 vote against further action on House Bill 1854 means it's dead for the 2014 legislative session, said Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax.

Schmick and Rep. Susan Fagan, R-Pullman, were sponsors. They both represent Franklin County's "doughnut hole" area, half of which was annexed by the city of Pasco at the beginning of 2013.

"I'm just disappointed the bill didn't move, but that's the process we have," Schmick told the Herald. "But it wasn't for lack of trying on my part."

Among the bill's supporters is Roger Lenk, a resident of the still-unincorporated area of the doughnut hole. He has long opposed Pasco's annexation efforts and helped organize a petition last year to put a proposition on the ballot to deannex part of the Riverview area.

"In many cases it's not a citizen-driven initiative, it's a city-driven initiative, where the citizens have no say," Lenk said of annexations in Washington.

The bill would have changed state annexation law to require that cities either get 60 percent approval from the voters in affected areas or obtain signatures from people who own 70 percent of property in an area, as determined by assessed property values.

The law currently allows cities to annex land without a vote of residents if they have permission from owners of 60 percent of the property in an area or if 60 percent of landowners receive city water -- which counts as automatic support for annexation.

Members of the House Local Government Committee who voted against House Bill 1854 on Wednesday said the proposed changes are too drastic.

Cities like Pasco use a tactic in which utility agreements transfer between property owners, Schmick said. That forces people who buy homes using city water to support annexation. Some homeowners aren't aware of the pre-existing agreements when they buy property, he added.

Some of the legislators who opposed the bill agreed that they would eventually like to see changes to laws requiring water customers to give up power of attorney to cities. But they felt the bill asked too much of cities trying to annex.

"I think that really is a concern with me, but it really goes too far too fast," said Rep. Dean Takko, D-Longview, the committee's chairman, before voting against the bill.

A Jan. 23 hearing included testimony from annexation opponents and lobbyists. Among those testifying were Franklin County Commissioner Brad Peck and Lenk and Jan Tomlinson, who helped lead an effort to deannex two parts of the doughnut hole.

The proposed bill would have put the "direct" back in the direct petition method by requiring that cities get actual signatures collected recently before they can annex, Lenk told the committee.

"This sounds like something that would occur in Cuba or China, not in Washington state," Lenk said of Pasco's actions.

But lobbyist Briahna Taylor, who represents Pasco for Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs, pointed out that more than 70 percent of Pasco voters shot down the deannexation proposition in November.

Taylor also defended the utility agreements, saying Pasco needed the commitments because of the infrastructure work the city did in the doughnut hole in preparation for eventual annexation. Along with upgrading a water system, the city added sewer lines, built a fire station nearby and took over the maintenance of the only county-owned park in the area since bringing Riverview into Pasco's urban growth area in 1992.

"For the city to provide these services without the agreements in place, it would be unfair to the other Pasco citizens who are already paying for these services," she said.

Glen Morgan, property rights director for the Olympia-based Freedom Foundation, pointed out that the vote to keep the annexations was made by all the residents of Pasco, not just residents of the annexed areas. He similar annexation issues are coming up in the Olympia area.

Taylor, whose firm is paid $3,150 a month to represent Pasco, did not know the answer when Takko asked her the results of the vote only in the annexed area. Had she known, she could have told him that more than 59 percent of the voters in the annexed areas chose to stay in Pasco.

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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