La Center council prepares to vote on annexation as far as I-5 junction

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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The La Center City Council will vote next month on expanding its city limits to include more than 470 acres of residential and commercial land that would connect the town to the Interstate 5 junction, officials said.

The city received the green light for the vote last week from the Clark County Assessor’s Office, which determined La Center had signatures from owners of 60 percent of the annexed property’s $22.8 million value, Assessor Peter Van Nortwick said.

The annexation proposal is important, La Center officials said, because it opens up commercial opportunities along I-5 that could make the city of 2,800 less dependent on tax revenues from card rooms.

The council will vote on an ordinance to approve annexing 471.38 acres into the city limits during its Sept. 14 meeting at 214 E. Fourth St. The meeting will also have a public hearing portion where residents can voice their opinions.

“We’ve been trying for seven years to get out to the junction, and we finally made it,” La Center Mayor Jim Irish said. “It gives the city of La Center its first industrial lands and access to the freeway.”

The annexation proposal does not have any bearing on the Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s attempts to build a casino on 152 acres of land west of I-5. Clark County filed a lawsuit against the federal government for giving the land to the tribe. The lawsuit is pending in federal appeals court.

The La Center City Council voted this year to open talks with the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, thus rescinding a previous policy blocking dialogue between the two parties. La Center’s desire to reach the I-5 junction has nothing to do with the Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s casino push, Irish assured.

“We’re not dependent on them because we still have the card rooms,” Irish said. “Obviously, that is a factor in the equation of the financial health of La Center, but it is not a key factor.”

The annexation could bring more property tax money to the city, said Suzanne Levis, finance director for La Center.

Retail businesses at the junction could also lead to retail taxes beneficial to the city and provide jobs to local residents that would not require long commutes, Levis added.

“We really want to diversify our economy,” she said.

Residents inside the annexation area will not be forced to connect to city water or sewer lines if they already have water wells and working sewage, said Jeff Sarvis, director of La Center’s Public Works Department.

The city is weighing options on how best to provide sewage, how much it will cost and where the sewer lines will be placed, Sarvis said.

Recent upgrades to the city’s wastewater treatment facility ensured the city would be able to accommodate growth until the year 2020. La Center made $13 million in upgrades in the past 18 months to handle as much as 3 million gallons of water per day.

The city paid for the expansion with $10 million from the state’s Public Works Trust Fund, which must be paid back over 20 years. The city also supplied $1.5 million in matching dollars and $1.5 million from its reserve.

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; www.twitter.com/col_smallcities; www.facebook.com/raylegend; ray.legendre@columbian.com.