Washington Times Herald
The Washington City Council, at its Nov. 13 meeting, will consider adopting an ordinance that would approve annexation of 1,234 acres east of the city.
If approved, the annexation could become effective in mid- to late February, according to Mayor Joe Wellman.
Following introduction of the ordinance and adoption of the annexation fiscal plan on July 23, Wellman said, letters were mailed to all affected property owners with the fiscal plan and notification of a public hearing about the proposed annexation. At the Oct. 8 public hearing, several property owners were on hand to voice their concerns and ask questions.
Some of their questions were: Why now? How can the city afford it? What will the city do for annexed residents? How much will it affect residents’ taxes?
Wellman said three prime reasons for the annexation are to influence the city’s growth, capture the tax base brought by development along the I-69 corridor, and provide infrastructure and services to support development in the area.
“The orderly, long-term growth of the city is paramount,” Wellman said.
Currently, the city’s boundaries are uneven and some residents outside the city limits receive city services, such as water or electric, while others don’t. Annexation would straighten the boundary line and provide a full menu of city services, such as street maintenance and snow removal, to annexed residents, the mayor said.
“Once annexation becomes effective, the city has one year to ramp up and provide all noncapital services,” Wellman said, assuming annexation is approved.
Noncapital services would include those such as fire and police protection, garbage collection, snow removal and animal control. Capital services, he explained, are ones that will cost the city in capital outlay, such as putting in sewer lines or street lights or paving streets.
“We have three years to provide capital services,” the mayor said, adding that the city has to make these services available, but residents don’t have to have them if they don’t want them.
“We would probably have to put in a larger water line and fire hydrants. We’d need a larger water line to support the hydrants.”
Along with the hydrants would come full-time fire protection with two fire stations staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week year round, he continued. There are 17 paid firefighters, including the chief; eight are certified EMTs or paramedics, one is a certified HazMat instructor, two are firefighter skill instructors, two are fire code inspectors, and one is a medical instructor. Combined with a low fire class rating, this translates into lower insurance premiums for some home- and business owners.
Annexed residents also would benefit from a full-time police force dedicated to the city, Wellman said. There are 16 officers, plus the chief and assistant chief. That includes two full-time detectives, three K-9 units, and a trained and equipped Emergency Response Team.
Other benefits Wellman stressed include lower electric rates. He said even those people who currently have city electricity outside the city limits pay a 5-percent delivery fee.
“The customer would save 5 percent on their electric bill,” he said. “Savings could be higher depending on other suppliers.”
Also outside the city limits there’s a $7.10-per-month fire-protection fee for customers within 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant. If those customers are annexed into the city, that would drop to the in-city rate of less than $2.70 a month.
Trash pickup is $15 a month, but that includes an unlimited number of bags weekly, large items at no additional cost, tree limbs and branches, and scheduled leaf pickup. Purchase or rental of trash bins is not required.
Wellman pointed out that annexed residents also would be able to vote for a district representative and two at-large representatives on the city council, city clerk-treasurer and mayor in addition to the county officials for whom they already vote.
The city’s cost for the additional services is estimated to be $172,400 the first year, dropping to $165,400 in the fourth year, even with a 3-percent inflationary adjustment. However, the estimated increase in the tax levy over that time — just for existing properties and not including those expected to be developed — is $224,300.
“I can’t speak for what past administrations thought,” Wellman said, addressing why they thought it would not be financially feasible. “Initially it’ll be a wash, but as businesses take root we’ll see a difference.
“Residents of the annexed area, along with all city taxpayers, will benefit from the anticipated growth in the annexed area, as this growth will increase the city’s tax base. Residents will reap the rewards of taxes paid and shared by that development.
“It would tend to put downward pressure on the tax rate because the whole area is helping pay the bill. The bigger the tax base, the more people sharing the cost of running the city.”
The mayor said some residents seemed to think their taxes would double or triple, but that’s simply not the case.
Still, why can’t the I-69 corridor be isolated and annexed, going around the residential property owners?
“The goal is to annex the I-69 and U.S. 50 corridor,” the mayor said, “but we’re prohibited from just annexing the corridor. A certain percentage has to be contiguous with existing boundaries.”
He further explained that simply zoning a certain way cannot control where a business locates. Nor does it provide police and fire protection or provide protection with ordinances such as the nuisance property ordinance.
“It’s never been said — by me or by the council — that the (annexed) homeowners won’t pay more taxes,” Wellman said. “How much depends on their assessed valuation and the type of property. I ask that they consider the offsetting value they’re getting for that cost.”