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Published on Friday, February 13, 2015

Annexation bills of concern

Several bills aimed at changing how cities annex lands have been introduced and placed on the House Local Government Committee’s agenda. All are available for Committee action next week. None of them are supported by AWC and some are worse than others. Their fates are unclear and we’d encourage cities with concerns to contact members of the Committee.

HB 1848, a measure sponsored solely by Rep. Joe Schmick (R-Colfax) would eliminate the decades old petition-method of annexation that has been available and widely used by cities since 1945. Under provisions of the bill heard in Committee on February 12, even if a city has property-owner petitions representing at least 60% of the assessed valuation of an area, annexation may not occur unless voted on by at least 60% of the area residents. Furthermore, such an election must include at least 40% of the area’s voters who participated in the last election.

AWC testified against the measure and noted that if enacted, not only would it be a significant policy shift and could discourage annexation, development and extension of city utilities outside city boundaries, but would also call into question the legality of hundreds, if not thousands of legal pre-annexation agreements on file in cities and towns across the state. Surely litigation would follow. Along with a spokesperson from Pasco, we supported the idea of requiring disclosure of underlying pre-annexation agreements during the sale of property – something real estate and lending institution interests have objected to.

HB 2074, a measure sponsored by Rep. Jake Fey (D-Tacoma), would purportedly allow one city to annex a part of another city without that other city’s agreement. The bill has been filed without content. It is apparently aimed at sending a message and encouraging conflict resolution as a result of a very public dispute between the town of Ruston (adjacent to Tacoma) and the owners and developers of Point Ruston – a major mixed used project on the site of an old arsenic factory on the Puget Sound. It is scheduled for hearing on February 17 at 10 am before the House Local Government Committee. If actually heard, AWC will testify in opposition. Boundary changes between cities need agreement of both cities.

HB 2112, a measure sponsored solely by Rep. Ross Hunter (D-Medina), would require cities to annex within 10 years, those “urban islands” that are surrounded by one or more cities, including if bordered by a lake or other water body. The bill apparently stems from a draft circulated from Pierce County which was aimed at encouraging or requiring cities to annex areas that are often difficult to make part of a city, either because area residents don’t want to be annexed or the cost of annexing is too high. Rep. Hunter has long been a proponent of more logical boundaries and service provision and may have introduced this to foster a discussion on how to get there. It’s scheduled for hearing before the House Local Government Committee on February 17 at 10 am and AWC will testify both with concerns and interest. If the Legislature thinks it is so important for these areas to be annexed, why not either wave a magic wand and make it happen, or look at incentives for cities to do so. One idea we’ll suggest is authorizing a new real estate excise tax to help upgrade infrastructure and services in these areas.