Some Franklin County "doughnut-hole" residents might be willing to reconsider being annexed into Pasco if there was a way to ensure they could keep their current quality of life.
Nearly half of the 20 people who attended a Wednesday meeting about the issue said they would support having county officials negotiate to get density and land-use restrictions for the area.
Franklin County commissioners are weighing whether they should talk with the Pasco and Franklin Fire District 3 about the planned annexation of two miles of county property that is surrounded by city land.
Under a new law, a city can ask a county and fire district to create an agreement for annexation. The county has until Sept. 8 to respond to Pasco's request to begin talks on the doughnut hole in the Riverview area.
The process is an alternative to having cities annex an area through signed agreements with property owners who have 60 percent of the assessed value in the area.
Doug Gould, who lives in a county doughnut hole, said he came prepared to ask commissioners to tell the city to "go pound sand," but he was intrigued by the idea of negotiating under the residents' terms -- in particular, keeping current land use and zoning essentially unchanged.
He said he felt the city has lied to residents several times, and would want a guarantee that the terms would be upheld. Gould is concerned the city would allow high-density, low-income housing instead of the current minimum half-acre lot sizes.
Last week, the fire district asked commissioners to consider the negotiations.
When the doughnut hole is annexed, the fire district will be shifting to all rural coverage, said Todd Blackman, Franklin Fire District 3 chairman. That will mean moving its center of operations from the doughnut hole to north of the city and adjusting to a smaller budget.
The fire district would lose the property value if the areas were annexed, but County Assessor Steve Marks said the district wouldn't collect any less in property taxes.
Remaining taxpayers in the fire district would pay more because the levy rate of $1.01 per $1,000 of assessed value would increase to keep the total amount collected the same.
But the fire district's levy rate could go no higher than its cap of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value, he said.
Blackman said he doesn't want to be annexed, but being an elected official means looking at the big picture. That's why he would like to start the process and get the facts rather than acting on fears.
County Commissioner Brad Peck said what the commission shouldn't do is have a lot of people say "no" to negotiation without considering what could be gained if they at least talk with the city and fire district.
"It's about cutting the best deal for the citizens," he said.
The fire district and county have no say on what the city does in terms of annexation without at least entering into talks, said commission Chairman Bob Koch.
Mark MacFarlan, who lives in the doughnut hole, said it would be stupid to throw away a potentially good deal, but he would recommend the county not negotiate unless the city agrees to a minimum of half-acre lot sizes.
He brought a petition to the meeting with about 70 signatures from people who asked commissioners to reject Pasco's negotiation request.
Citizens would likely challenge annexation if the city were to try to use the water service agreements, he said.
Stephanie Swanberg said she would like the county to negotiate because right now, there is some leverage that could be lost if the talks don't happen.
Some residents don't trust city leadership, which is why Swanberg said she would like the time frame of annexation pushed out as far as possible. But she understood if that needed to be used to get the city to agree to specific conditions.
"I am placing my trust in you," she told the commissioners.
Jan Barron said she is worried about changes to zoning, the septic systems and water service. And she just couldn't see a net savings for residents.
Commissioners plan to make their decision Aug. 31. That meeting may be held in the evening and moved to another location.