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Friction arises at meeting on West Plains annexation

Commissioner will attend weekly talks

In a meeting that got prickly at times, Spokane Mayor Mary Verner and Airway Heights Mayor Matthew Pederson met Tuesday with the Spokane County Commission about the Lilac’s City’s largest proposed annexation in more than a century.

The plan would annex about 10 square miles of the West Plains, including Spokane International Airport. Airway Heights would also expand by about 320 acres, including the Wal-Mart on Hayford Road.

“Now that we are recognizing that this matter needs to be pursued now … it’s incumbent on all three of our governments to sit down and look at how we collectively are going to address annexation in this area, including how we are going to share the cost of delivering services and revenue that will be derived from that area,” Verner said.

Commissioner Mark Richard said that part of his “frustration” was that county leaders were left out of decisions made months ago by officials from both cities, even though the county is included in the joint planning area.

But Verner cut him off.

“I have to ask you to move on from that today,” Verner told Richard. “We have done a public records request and there was already conversations going on between the county and Airway Heights” about annexation issues.

Commissioner Todd Mielke joined the fray.

“I’m extremely frustrated that Spokane County has usually been on the receiving end with criticism with regard to a lack of open process and a willingness to reach out,” he said. “And to find out that basically a deal was being negotiated absent the involvement of one of the jurisdictional entities … rubs us wrong.

“And mostly because it comes from an entity that has been outspoken … about joint planning agreements.”

Mielke said two previous annexation attempts in the area failed and neither included the airport because it is essentially another government agency. As such, it is exempt from many of the fees that the city would need to recoup the cost of delivering services there.

Mielke went on to describe the city’s annexations of the North Metro area, Moran-Glenrose area and now the West Plains as defensive postures “in a race to revenue streams. By simply shifting revenues and not realizing an ability for each jurisdiction to cover its costs, the real losers are the citizens of this region.”

Mielke mentioned the expected $8 million annual cost to operate a proposed expanded jail. While county leaders try to find revenue to cover those costs, they stand to lose as much as $3 million in revenue from the proposed annexation on the West Plains.

“The overwhelming majority of people sitting in that jail were arrested in incorporated areas,” he said.

Pederson said his city’s agreement with Spokane was not just about a race to grab revenues.

“I’m a little offended that you think this is about a Wal-Mart,” Pederson told Mielke. “The city of Airway Heights did not initiate this. This was initiated by the residents and property owners in the (joint planning area). I can’t see this other than but good planning.”

Eventually county leaders agreed to send one commissioner to the weekly meetings with Verner and Pederson as they work to present the annexation in March to the Spokane County Boundary Review Board.

Commissioner Bonnie Mager said the timing of the annexation caught the county leaders off guard.

“Since we are here,” she said, “I would like to use what little time we do have to move forward.”

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