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Annexation talk heats up again in Elma

Steven Friederich | The Vidette  Elma City Councilman David Blackett speaks to neighbors about the potential boundaries of the proposed annexation area that heads out to Schouweiller Road during a recent council meeting. He stands next to Councilman Tom Boling, right, and Mayor Dave Osgood, left.Buy Photo
Steven Friederich | The Vidette Elma City Councilman David Blackett speaks to neighbors about the potential boundaries of the proposed annexation area that heads out to Schouweiller Road during a recent council meeting. He stands next to Councilman Tom Boling, right, and Mayor Dave Osgood, left.
The areas in yellow are being proposed to be annexed by the city of Elma, including the “island” areas in northern Elma and heading out to Schouweiller Road south of Monte-Elma Road. The community of Firlawn, which is located north of the main road, is also included. Elma Elementary would not be in the proposed annexation area because of neighbor complaints.Buy Photo
The areas in yellow are being proposed to be annexed by the city of Elma, including the “island” areas in northern Elma and heading out to Schouweiller Road south of Monte-Elma Road. The community of Firlawn, which is located north of the main road, is also included. Elma Elementary would not be in the proposed annexation area because of neighbor complaints.

A proposal to annex areas west of the city of Elma out to Schouweiller Road is again on the table for the fourth or fifth time since first being batted about decades ago.

Elma City Council members have talked about bringing the idea back for the last few months, and have hosted at least two workshops on the idea. Last week, Councilman David Blackett formally introduced an annexation map that would sweep up the community of Fir Lawn along with homes and businesses south of Monte-Elma Road all the way to Schouweiller Road.

“A city’s job is to grow,” Blackett said. “Most of the people in these areas already consider themselves part of Elma. They use our library, our senior center and our other services.”

Gone is a proposal from 2011 that would have annexed the area north of Monte-Elma Road, including Elma Elementary and the farms around that area. Alice and Cindy Knight, who own farms near that area, lobbied hard against those plans.

Still, Alice saw the new map and said she was a bit distrustful that the city would keep its pledge and keep her farm out of the city limits.

“If I wanted to move into the city of Elma, I would have done it years ago, when I first moved here,” she said. “I like living in the county. I like living in the country. I don’t want to follow all your city rules and regulations. I’m doing just fine the way things are. … I wish you guys would just drop this annexation talk altogether.”

Knight and a few of her neighbors had heard the city wanted to annex her farm again. And, at one point earlier this year, that was the talk. But Blackett said he heard those concerns and wanted to exclude the area from the map.

“This is a compromise,” Blackett said. “And there’s no good reason why these areas shouldn’t be in the city of Elma.”

But City Councilwoman Debbie Thurman and Councilman Charles Butterfield aren’t so sure.

They question why the city needs to annex the area at all.

“What’s the benefit?” Thurman said. “What do the citizens get? Why are we talking about this?”

Thurman said she’s had these same questions for years.

Thurman pointed out that residents outside the city limits are paying higher utility rates than those in the city limits. “Wouldn’t we lose that extra revenue?” she questions.

Butterfield said before he gets on board, he wants to see a cost analysis breaking down how much more revenue the city could get in sales tax revenue from businesses in the area, as well as extra property tax revenue compared to the costs the city may have to take to spend on repairing pot holes on the street and city staff. Butterfield and Thurman also theorized that an extra police officer may need to be hired to patrol the area, a cost which the city can’t afford.

Elma Police Chief Jeff Troumbley told the council and mayor that he thought the city could be able to absorb the area and not hire any new officers.

Elma Mayor Dave Osgood said that the concern about fixing roads remains a valid one, but it’s an issue the city needs to deal with for all of its roads, not just the potential area under consideration for annexation.

Osgood points out that by having more properties in the city of Elma, it increases the property valuations for the city and could end up reducing the potential debt service paid by residents for any bonds or property tax requests sought by the residents in the future. In short, more people could bring down potential property taxes for everyone in the city.

Besides the area west of city limits to Schouweiller Road, there are other “islands” of county land located in the middle of city limits that would also be annexed into the city. If the county property is already surrounded completely by the city, the residents won’t have a lot of say about the matter. By state law, they’ll end up part of the city pretty much no matter what. However, state law changed last year requiring that property be surrounded by the city on all sides. The law used to have a lower threshold, which means some other areas of the city proposed for annexation on Fern Street and Ash Street would need support of those residents.

“Those areas should have been in the city a very long time ago because it’s just confusing when a neighbor calls 911 about a noise complaint and they’re told that the sheriff has to respond,” Blackett said.

The last time the city talked about annexation plans was in 2011, but the plans never ended up going to a vote of the council. Neighbor complaints just shut the conversation off, Councilman Tom Boling said.

“I really think we’ve resolved a lot of the issues this time,” Boling said.

Since that time, however, the city has slowly been building its case. In recent months, the council has approved agreements with major landowners in the area, including NDC Timber out near Schouweiler Road, where the property owners agreed to support annexing their properties into the city limit.

The city has also required that land owners sign an agreement that they won’t protest annexation if they want to use the city water but are outside the city limits. Knight protested that move, saying some of her neighbors didn’t want to sign the agreement, but needed the city’s water.

“Nobody’s forcing them to sign the agreements,” Mayor Osgood said. “They could have pursued other options, like digging for wells.”

Any attempts by the city to annex the area would need to go through a public hearing process, where residents would get their say. At least 60 percent of the neighbors under consideration for annexation would need to agree via petition to the city for the annexation request.

Because of issues that came about in 2007 between when the city of Aberdeen tried to annex the Junction City area and objections from Sierra Pacific Industries, the county created a five-member Boundary Review Board as insurance to review all future annexation proposals.

That means even if the city approved the annexation, the Boundary Review Board would still need to approve the request.

One issue typically looked at in Boundary Review Board cases is if the city is also annexing in the roads. In the area around the Fir Lawn Estates, Blackett’s proposal would not annex in Calder Road, but leave that to the county. Blackett noted that could be an issue with the Boundary Review Board, but he thought it was a case the city could win since the county would still exist on the other side of the road.

In the Aberdeen case, the big debate came because Aberdeen has a B&O tax while the county does not.

The city of Elma currently does not have a B&O tax.