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City, county discuss annexation at forum

Panel analyzes brunt of plan to Spokane, Airway Heights

A public forum was held last week to gather input on plans for dividing a large area of the West Plains between the city of Spokane and the city of Airway Heights.

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner, Airway Heights Mayor Matthew Pederson, and Spokane County Commissioner Bonnie Mager met with business leaders and residents at a conference center east of Airway Heights to address concerns over the proposed annexation.

Under the plan, which has been in the works for about a year, Spokane would annex 10 square miles of the West Plains before de-annexing about half a square mile of the land to Airway Heights.

“This is the first time two jurisdictions along with a county have collaborated to conduct an annexation,” said Pederson, who acknowledged the potential for conflict in such an unusual joint planning situation. “At some point in the process you’re going to have a winner and a loser. That could be the county losing money after the annexation or the municipality losing money prior to annexation as they’re delivering services to the area.”

In 2002 Airway Heights challenged Spokane’s effort to annex an even larger area of the West Plains. Pedersen, who approached Verner last June about a new plan, said the failure had proved to be a valuable learning tool which resulted in a better process. “In the beginning there was some conflict, but we realized an opportunity to conduct business differently in order to see all jurisdictions be successful.”

One problem was that while the cities might find success through annexation there could be a negative impact on the county, Fire District 10 or the Spokane International Airport, which is now jointly owned by the county and the city of Spokane.

Verner said the recent inclusion of the county in “interest-based negotiations” allowed all jurisdictions to find a way to accommodate each other in order to achieve a smooth transition. “There are some unanswered questions at this point,” she said, “but we have all the major stakeholders involved, including the county, which overcomes a major hurdle.”

While the county is nearly certain to face a loss of revenue if the annexation goes through, Mager said she believes a suitable agreement can be reached and that both mayors have assured her services to current county residents will either improve or remain the same after annexation.

During the open forum portion of the evening, Fire District 10 Commissioner Paul McBride said that while annexation would lead to a reduction in revenue for the county Fire Department, mitigation dollars would be provided to keep the current level of service. He also said area fire chiefs are working with the cities to find the best way to keep services steady.

A representative of regional homebuilder Condron Homes, said he was concerned annexation into Airway Heights would mean increased fees, including a park impact fee imposed upon new housing developments by the city. Pederson said the city is looking at a two-year period with no park impact fees, giving current builders time to either finish their projects or become vested.

A West Plains resident asked when the entire annexation process would be complete. Verner said that if all goes well the planning process will be finished by the end of summer after public input is considered, although the annexation itself won’t take place for a couple of years. “It takes a lot of people to agree on this, and this gives everyone time for a smooth transition,” she said.

Ken Stevens, director of Airport Affairs for Alaska Airlines, asked how the annexation would affect costs to individual airlines. Verner said the goal was to maintain current fees, and that the only difference would be that airlines would write their service checks to Spokane instead of the county.