Vancouver-county annexation deal eyed

Pact expires in December; county council advised to let it ‘die’

By Jake Thomas, Columbian staff writer

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The city of Vancouver’s plans to annex nearby areas are all but certain to happen. But they could be complicated if Clark County doesn’t renew an interlocal agreement over annexations that’s set to expire in December.

The city of Vancouver has revived its annexation plans after they were put on hold by the Great Recession. Those plans have raised concerns among county officials, who are now taking a second look at a decade-old agreement that some have criticized as being “one-sided” in the city’s favor.

Under the state’s Growth Management Act, counties are required to establish urban growth areas to accommodate expected growth. The GMA directs cities to eventually annex these areas and provide them services.

In 2007, the city of Vancouver updated its Annexation Blueprint, which outlines its plans to steadily annex 10,835 acres of unincorporated Clark County over a 20-year time span. The plan is accompanied by an agreement with Clark County that stipulates that the county would agree to support the annexations and cooperate with the city.

The agreement expires 10 years after its signing on Dec. 3, 2007, meaning that it needs to be renewed later this year.

At the county council’s Wednesday afternoon board time meeting, Christine Cook, civil deputy prosecuting attorney, said that her office’s view is that the agreement should “die.”

“And we then start anew,” she said. “Both parties in good faith working to do what is best for the citizens, including collaboration and coordination.”

Cook said that when the agreement was negotiated in 2007, the county had a “gun to its head.” She said that “gun” was the possibility that the city of Vancouver would appeal Clark County’s recent update to its comprehensive plan, a document required under the GMA that guides growth in the county and has been subject to exhaustive litigation.

Annexations can be contentious as one local government hands over control of an area and its tax revenue to another jurisdiction. Last year, the county projected losing $1.2 million in annual sales tax revenue as a result of Vancouver’s planned annexation.

On Aug. 1, Vancouver completed its annexation of Van Mall North, a 1,270-acre area that includes 5,528 people. Some residents opposed the annexation, expressing concerns over how it would affect taxes, services and development.

During the meeting, Councilor Jeanne Stewart said she brought up the issue after hearing from members of the Vancouver City Council that they wanted the agreement extended. She complained that the county built the infrastructure in areas slated for annexation but the city would end up taking tax revenue generated within them.

“We need to be smart, and we need to be strategic and we need to not underestimate the revenue ambitions of Vancouver,” she said.

No member of the county council expressed support for renewing the agreement and asked for more study of the issue.

Speaking after the meeting, Stewart pointed out that the Annexation Blueprint was drafted 10 years ago before the recession and doesn’t have specific dates for each annexation. She said that with the economy now being so different that the agreement should lapse so the county and city can take a step back and evaluate their plans.

During a board time meeting last week, Chris Horne, the county’s chief civil deputy prosecutor, said that it appeared that during the last annexation the amount of staff time spent on the transition had been “one-sided” with the county doing much of the work. He said letting the agreement expire would allow the county to “ask rather than just give.” But he said that letting the agreement expire would have “very little” effect.

The county currently has an interim county manager. Vancouver City Councilman Jack Burkman said that before the two sides negotiate annexations the county should have a permanent manager in place and he recommends extending the agreement for another year.

He said that it makes more sense for cities to provide services to urban areas and that the annexations will happen under the GMA anyway. He said it’s a matter of making sure that they happen in an orderly and effective way without antagonism between the city and county. Keeping the agreement in place will help with that he said.

“Let’s minimize the surprises,” he said. “Let’s do this together.”