It's time for the Olympia City Council to annex the unincorporated islands of property within the city limits.
The three islands create confusion for residents and emergency responders. There’s no substantive tax hit, so residents should welcome the opportunity to clear up the confusion and join the capital city.
The largest unincorporated island is 205 acres near Boulevard Road, south of Pacific Avenue and north of 15th Avenue. The area includes both sides of Boulevard Road and parts of Interstate 5 and the Woodland Trail.
The unincorporated area is considered Thurston County for tax and other purposes, yet many residents see themselves as Olympians because their homes are surrounded by city residents.
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The other two islands under consideration for annexation are on Olympia’s west side — 20 acres south of 14th Avenue and west of Cooper Point Road and eight acres area west of Division Street at Langridge Street.
Annexation laws have changed in recent years — to the advantage of the Olympia City Council and the disadvantage of property owners.
It used to be that residents of an area had to petition to be annexed to a city. It took 60 percent of the property owners to sign an annexation petition to move the issue forward.
But a 2009 change to state law allows cities to initiate annexations in islands — even if residents are opposed.
That’s a substantive shift in policy. Instead of willing annexation participants, cities can find themselves annexing residents who don’t want to join their city.
The Legislature’s rationale for changing the law was one of expediency. It’s inefficient for a county to provide service in areas not contiguous to its boundaries.
How, for example, are sheriff deputies supposed to routinely patrol the Boulevard Road island or one of the other islands, when they are not contiguous to other property under the county’s jurisdiction.
While it’s true that South Sound law enforcement officials have intergovernmental agreements to respond to emergencies in each other’s boundaries, the fact is sheriff deputies patrolling rural areas of the county will have a slower response time than Olympia police during a time of emergency.
The Olympia City Council, which is likely to consider the two west-side annexations first, has the final say on annexation.
Taxes are always a concern when these issues arise. By the city’s calculations, residents in the proposed Boulevard Road annexation area would pay $10.51 per $1,000 of assessed valuation instead of their current $10.75 per $1,000. Residents in the west-side areas would pay about $10.70 per $1,000 instead of $11.24, said Dean Walz, city finance manager. The tax rates include not just city rates, but also other taxes such as Medic One, school and state taxes.
New city residents also would be governed by city’s development and zoning regulations, including stormwater fees. But people on septic systems wouldn’t be required to hook up to sewers.
Businesses, of which there are few in the proposed annexation areas, would have to pay business and occupational tax.
Residents may have individual reasons for opposing the annexation, but the efficient delivery of public services is what’s paramount when considering the annexation of islands. The 2009 law is clearly on the side of Olympia officials and annexation.