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Olympia has its eyes on 'islands'

Jo Carr of Tumwater places a wreath at her parents' grave site at Forest Memorial Garden cemetery along Pacific Avenue on Thursday. The property, along with several homes in the background, are part of a proposed annexation to bring unincorporated islands of property into Olympia city limits.
Jo Carr of Tumwater places a wreath at her parents' grave site at Forest Memorial Garden cemetery along Pacific Avenue on Thursday. The property, along with several homes in the background, are part of a proposed annexation to bring unincorporated islands of property into Olympia city limits. The Olympian

OLYMPIA - The City of Olympia is considering annexing more than 200 acres in three "islands" - unincorporated areas surrounded by the city.

The largest is a 205-acres piece in the Boulevard Road area, south of Pacific Avenue and north of 15th Avenue, including both sides of Boulevard and parts of Interstate 5 and the Woodland Trail.

Also under consideration are two west-side areas – 20 acres south of 14th Avenue and west of Cooper Point Road and eight acres area west of Division Street at Langridge Street.

It’s unclear how many people or individual properties are affected by the proposal, said Kraig Chalem, an associate planner with the city.

A 2009 state law allows cities to initiate annexations in “islands” without popular support. The rationale is that it’s inefficient for a county to provide service in areas not contiguous to its boundaries.

Though no action is imminent, the issue came to the fore this month when four people with property in the proposed Boulevard Road annexation area told the Olympia City Council they oppose annexation. Comments were taken from a meeting video.

“I am a property owner, have been for about 15 years, and one of the reasons I bought the property I have is because it was in the county and was not in the City of Olympia,” said Jim Simmons of Dayton Street. “I do not desire my property to be in the City of Olympia, and I really resent the fact that our Legislature unfortunately saw fit to pass a law that potentially allows the city to annex my property without any say from me.”

Among the objectors to the annexation were several members of the Burgman family, owners of the Forest Funeral Home & Cemetery, which lies in the proposed Boulevard Road annexation area.

“We are opposed to the annexation,” Tim Burgman said. “One reason that was already stated: We do not have a vote on it.”

ISLAND HISTORY

It’s that lack of public support that allowed the three islands to remain out of the city, according to a staff report. So the city grew around them.

Before the 2009 state annexation law, there were two basic methods of annexation: by special election or by petition of property owners of at least 60 percent of the assessed value of the area to be annexed, according to a staff report. The city only initiated annexations under special circumstances.

The 2009 state law provided an opportunity for cities to absorb islands, which is what staff members say they’re considering.

The city will give residents an opportunity to comment on the proposals, though their consent isn’t necessary to initiate an annexation, said Chalem, the associate city planner.

And there is no imminent action, he said. The Boulevard Road issue is “really more or less off the table this year,” he said. The proposed west-side annexations, which are less complicated, probably will be pursued in late January, he said.

The Olympia City Council has the final say on annexation.

TAXES AND SERVICES

People in the proposed annexation areas might be surprised to learn that the city says their property taxes would go down if they were annexed.

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.

The main reason for the drop: after annexation, people would no longer pay Thurston County’s road levy, which is $1.28 per $1,000.

The numbers are based on 2010 property-tax rates. Rates are adjusted each year.

The taxes go down despite the fact that people in the Boulevard area would still be paying off bonds for Fire District 3 and, in the west-side area, bonds for Fire District 9 – both in addition to paying for bonds for the city’s new fire station.

The residents in these areas already receive fire service from the Olympia Fire Department because of mutual-aid agreements, though they are technically in the county fire districts.

“It’s my understanding that Olympia fire is already the first responder and essentially provides free fire service, so I don’t know that it would have a significant impact on either the city or the district in terms of how we currently respond to calls for service,” said deputy city attorney Darren Nienaber.

If annexed, people in those areas would pick up city services such as police, street paving, street lights, a sidewalk program and the right to vote in city elections. Waste-pickup service, provided by LeMay Inc., would continue for a number of years, Walz said.

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, Chalem said.

Businesses, of which there are few in the proposed annexation areas, would have to pay business and occupational tax, which Burgman objects to. The tax rate ranges from one-10th of 1 percent to two-10ths of 1 percent, depending on the type of business.

“I’m real happy with the county,” Burgman said. “I’ve been dealing with them for 30-some years. I would like to keep it that way.”

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6969 mbatcheldor@theolympian.com

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