May 29, 2002 11:00 pm

By Ray Linker

Observer Staff Writer

With large-scale annexation efforts by the City of La Grande unfruitful in the past few years, the city is taking a different stance on the issue.

In part, the change is due both to the opposition of citizens in the areas which did not want to be annexed. Decisions and interpretations by the state Land Use Board of Appeals and the state Court of Appeals were other determining factors for the change in direction.

Not having to pay a consulting firm $50,000 was another consideration.

The idea for the latest plan was sparked by a statement made by a citizen during local hearings before the city council as the council worked in what proved to be a fruitless effort to annex 56 acres on the northside of La Grande.

"We got the idea after Jack Johnson (who was opposed to the annexation and took the city to state Land Use Board of Appeals and the Appeals Court over the issue) commented that the city should offer some incentives to people living outside the city limits to be annexed," said Mike Hyde, the city's community development director.

That's just what the staff came up with, and the city council approved it. Now the staff will solicit "Consents to Annexation" of people living within the urban growth boundary, that area just outside the city limits deemed developable as residences.

The incentive will be that property taxes will be increased slowly over a five-year period until they reach the existing rate. State law permits a phase-in over a 10-year period, but the city council approved a five-year plan, Hyde said.

"While some people objected to the annexation, we're going to offer this incentive and hope they will reconsider," Hyde said.

He has called a meeting for all property owners in the urban growth area to make citizens aware of the new plan and to answer any questions from the residents.

The meeting will be at 6 p.m. June 24 in the high school


"We'll see who consents, and based on that, we'll see if we have enough support to move forward," Hyde said. "It's hard to predict what support there might be."

In a report to the city council May 1, Hyde said, "It is very unlikely that a majority of

those in the urban growth

area will vote for annexation unless the city offers some type of incentive."

Under the five-year phase in, those being annexed would pay only 20 percent of the city tax rate the first year, 40 percent the second year, 60 percent in the third, 80 percent in the fourth and 100 percent thereafter.

Whatever is annexed must, by law, be contiguous to the city, Hyde said. A vote would be held, but Hyde said the state law is not clear as to whether a majority of residents in the area proposed to be annexed must approve as well as those inside the city limits (the double majority) or whether it is the total votes cast which determines if the area will be annexed. In a similar situation in Bend, an area was annexed relying on the total vote of both those in and outside the city and no one challenged the decision to annex.

La Grande previously hired a Portland consulting firm to prepare an annexation plan of the entire urban growth area, but after one meeting to kick off planning efforts, the two project managers for the consulting firm, Shapiro and Associates, both left the company and the city terminated the contract.