More than 200 angry residents guffawed and applauded during a public hearing Wednesday night to debate Spokane’s annexation of a chunk of unincorporated South Hill.
Because of fire codes at Moran Prairie Elementary School, city officials turned back 150 people from the packed auditorium.
So many people showed up that city officials had to request that a fire engine be stationed outside in case of emergencies.
Ironically, it was a truck from Fire District 8, which would see its budget slashed if the Spokane City Council approves the annexation.
City officials are considering the annexation of 1,800 acres near the Palouse Highway between Hatch Road and the Glenrose subdivision. The proposal means more money for the city, which would collect taxes from an area where land and buildings are appraised at about $300 million.
Many residents were worried the City Plan Commission was set to approve the annexation despite public outcry against the move. Cynics snickered when Jim Kolva, president of the plan commission, said no decisions have been made.
“Hopefully you on the city plan commission will listen to us with an open mind,” Moran Prairie resident Lynn Tennican said.
Tennican urged the commission to abandon annexation plans. “We definitely don’t want to give away our identity to become part of the city’s bank account and big-city image.”
Because of the unexpectedly strong turnout, the city is planning another public hearing next month.
At Wednesday night’s meeting, residents questioned the city’s motives to annex the property.
Many insinuated the city wants to broaden its tax base and circumvent the Growth Management Act, which designates areas where urban growth should occur.
Others were outright incensed that they may become city residents.
“I always tell people the reason I moved out here is because I’m close enough to the city and far enough away from the city,” said 20-year Moran Prairie resident Louise Casson.
“I can see horses next to the roads … and my son was raised out here. I don’t want to live in the city.”
The 5,300 residents affected by the proposal would still pay some taxes to the county, but none to the library or fire districts. Instead, they would contribute to the city’s budget.
Their property taxes would increase slightly and they would notice an increase in cost for garbage collection, electricity, natural gas and other utilities taxed by the city.
In exchange for higher taxes, city officials say the new residents would get better services, including more police officers and free use of city libraries.
But residents questioned whether they would get better services, especially ambulances and fire protection.
South Hill resident Sam Van Wyck called the plan “ill conceived and ill timed” because it would diminish the budget of Fire District 8 and make residents dependent on the Valleyford fire district, which is further away.
The annexation area covers less than 3 percent of the fire district but contributes 39 percent of its $1.1 million annual budget.
The City Plan Commission will give its recommendation to the City Council by summer.
If the council approves, the annexation must be filed with the County Boundary Review Board for review and approval. Then people who control 75 percent of the area’s property, by appraised value, must approve the annexation before it becomes final.
At earliest, the land will become part of the city by January 1996.
Senior planner Marion Hess said at least 70 percent of the Moran Prairie landowners already approved the annexation - a requirement when they received city utilities.
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