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During the first half of 2018, the planning commission, city council and all Philomath voters will face a variety of annexation-related issues.

The January city newsletter provided detail on three types — island annexations, delayed annexations and non-unanimous triple majority annexations — so I won’t spend time on those subjects other than to encourage residents to read up on them, be involved in the public hearings and make an informed vote regarding these annexations in the May primary.

One annexation-related issue that hasn’t been discussed in much detail recently is the city’s stance on voter-approved annexations. As background, on March 15, 2016, Gov. Kate Brown signed Senate Bill 1573 into law as part of a multi-bill, housing affordability effort.

The new law specifically prohibits cities from sending petitions for annexation to the voters prior to approval. It requires that the city council make the final decision on whether an annexation application meets the applicable criteria or not, and then make a final decision of whether to annex the property or not.

In 2016, the city requested that the two applicants for annexation received voluntarily agree to follow the city’s charter and municipal code rather than the new state law, which they both agreed to. Following approval by the planning commission and the city council, the Chapel Drive annexation was not approved by the voters but the Skirvin Farms annexation was.

In February 2017, the city of Corvallis filed a motion for summary judgment with Benton County Circuit Court, and the city of Philomath and the League of Oregon Cities joined as intervenors to the motion. The city challenged the constitutionality of SB 1573 in circuit court as a matter of home rule authority, but the court upheld the constitutionality of the new law.

The cities filed for a stay, which would have allowed the cities to continue to follow their charters and municipal codes while the circuit court’s decision was waiting to be heard by the Court of Appeals, but that stay was denied.

Although the city charter and municipal code requires all annexation applications received be referred to the voters, given the decision by the Benton County Circuit Court and the lack of a stay, the city attorney has advised the city council that the city has no legal standing on which to send an annexation request received via application to the voters.

The city council, following recommendation from the planning commission and a public hearing on the matter, will be forced to give final approval to an annexation application if it is found to meet the applicable criteria set out in the municipal code.

In short: Does the city council support voter-approval annexations? Yes, it has voted to stand side-by-side with Corvallis and the League of Oregon Cities to challenge SB 1573; it has voted to join in the appeal of that decision to the Court of Appeals, and it has filed for a stay in judgment so it could continue to follow its charter and municipal code. Will the city council refer annexations to the voters? No, not unless the Court of Appeals overturns the circuit court’s decision, or the issue is taken to the Supreme Court and that court rules in the city’s favor.

Voter-approval annexation is largely up to the courts to be decided at this point. In the meantime, the city is forced to take the most prudent course of action and follow the advice of the city attorney by following state law as approved by the state Legislature and Gov. Brown, and as interpreted by the Benton County Circuit Court.

The city received an application for an annexation of approximately 9 acres of land adjacent to the middle school and Chapel Drive in November. The staff report is being written and the first public hearing has been scheduled before the planning commission on Feb. 26 at 7 p.m.

If the planning commission believes the application meets the applicable criteria set out in the municipal code, the application will be forwarded to the city council for a public hearing, deliberation and a final decision.

As an interesting and timely side note: Island annexations, delayed annexations and non-unanimous triple majority annexations have been initiated by the city and not a property owner or applicant, therefore, they are not controlled by SB 1573. The city intends to refer all annexations of these types to the voters in the primary election in May for final consideration once they have been discussed and if they are approved by the planning commission and city council.

The first public hearing for these annexations is scheduled before the planning commission on Jan. 22 at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

Chris Workman is the Philomath city manager. He can be reached via email at chris.workman@philomathoregon.gov.

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