PASCO -- Franklin County commissioners seemed reluctant to talk with the city of Pasco about a possible planned annexation of a 2-mile chunk of county land surrounded by city boundaries.
And without the county's participation, negotiations for a long-term plan for annexing the so-called "doughnut hole" into the city of Pasco can't happen.
The city sent letters to Franklin County and Franklin Fire District 3 that initiate a process created by the state Legislature that allows a city, county and fire district to create an interlocal agreement for annexation.
The process is an alternative to having city councils annex land by approving an ordinance when property owners of 60 percent of the assessed property value in an area have signed annexation agreements.
County commissioners last week indicated they were not willing to begin negotiations based on opposition they had heard from some residents. But a formal decision was postponed until commission Chairman Bob Koch could be present.
The county has until Sept. 8 to respond to the city's request for negotiations.
Commissioner Brad Peck said some residents explained they were concerned their quality of life would change.
Peck said he would support an effort to determine what the affected residents would prefer. The county should do the best it can to respect their wishes as well as acting in the county's best interest.
State law allows the city, county and fire district to come to an agreement without a vote by citizens, although public hearings are required. If only the city and county come to an agreement, the plan would be taken before voters in a ballot measure. But the law doesn't include a provision for only the city and fire district to come to an agreement.
At the heart of the issue seems to be a disagreement about whether the doughnut hole eventually will become part of the city.
City and fire district officials assume the area will eventually be annexed into the city limits, causing the city to need to provide services to the area and the fire district to lose revenue. Most of the doughnut hole is between Sylvester and Argent roads and Road 52 and 100.
"It's going to happen sometime," said Franklin Fire District 3 Chief Les Litzenberger. "This is the only opportunity we have to have some input."
But Peck and Roger Lenk, a resident of the doughnut hole, don't agree.
Peck said the doughnut hole could be annexed and there is a general assumption that it will be. But it isn't inevitable, he said.
The doughnut hole does not seem to be inconsistent or incompatible with the city areas that surround it, he said.
Lenk said he doesn't think it's inevitable that the doughnut hole will be annexed.
"We absolutely do not want to have anything to do with the city of Pasco," Lenk told commissioners.
Lenk said he is concerned with the higher density development the area would likely see if annexed. Lenk said he and other residents in the doughnut hole purchased their properties knowing that the area had a lower density.
The county does a good job of providing services to the doughnut hole, and the rest of the county stands to lose if the area is annexed, Lenk said.
Lenk called the negotiation process for annexation a bad deal and a "take over scam."
The fire district has not formally responded to the city's request for negotiations yet, Litzenberger said. Fire commissioners already sent a letter in support of beginning the process.
Litzenberger said it seems to be in the best interest of the fire district and citizens to at least look at a plan. The process gives the district a voice in the process, including when areas are annexed and compensation for lost revenue, Litzenberger said.
Right now, the city can annex two areas of the doughnut hole by a city council vote because the city has agreements from property owners of 60 percent or more of the assessed value in those pieces.
That would represent about half of the doughnut hole, and half of the assessed value in that area, Litzenberger said. The loss of $163 million of assessed value from the district that the two areas represent would mean about $165,000 less in revenue per year.
The fire district's current budget is about $900,000, he said. The district has five paid full-time staff, including the chief, and up to 50 volunteer firefighters.
"We are looking for an opportunity to do some planning," he said.
The district contracts with the city of Pasco to provide ambulance service to the entire district, Litzenberger said. The contract for 2011 is $28,701.
The Franklin County dispatch center does a good job of sending the correct agency to fires, Litzenberger said. The boundaries of the doughnut hole can be confusing, since in some places, one home may be in the county, while a parcel across the street or next door is in the city.
A few mistakes are made, but the city or district will handle the emergency whether or not it is the correct address , he said.
If the city were to annex the areas it can now instead of negotiating a planned annexation, that would only get more confusing, Litzenberger said.
The idea of negotiating planned annexation is so that all parties benefit, said Gary Crutchfield, Pasco city manager. A plan would allow the district and county to not be harmed by "sporadic, smaller, piecemeal annexations," and in exchange, the city would have a timeline for when to provide services.
The district and county would be able to plan for no longer needing to serve that area and the fire district could plan for moving the station that's currently in the doughnut hole, he said. And a tax sharing agreement could be created to minimize the effect of decreased revenue for the fire district during the transition.
"It would be a shame to not at least explore the opportunity to have a planned annexation," Crutchfield said.