June 24, 2002 11:00 pm

By Ray Linker

Observer Staff Writer

Things got a little heated in the

La Grande High School commons Monday night. And it wasn't just because the air conditioning wasn't on in the enclosed area.

About 45 residents living in

La Grande's urban growth area assembled to ask questions about the consequences or advantages of being annexed into the city limits.

Thanks, but no thanks, was the message the residents sent to the city staff.

Most who spoke said the high cost of hooking up to water and sewer services made it unlikely or impossible for them to seek to be annexed.

"There is no incentive, such as a reduced cost for hookups," said one man.

The hookup fees would vary, depending on several factors, said Community Development Director Mike Hyde, adding that there is no requirement that a home be hooked up if it were annexed.

Hyde said he knew of only two of 300 to 400 property owners who were interested in being annexed.

He said those outside the city who already have city water and sewer services would see an immediate savings of 50 percent for water and 20 percent for sewer. Under present city ordinances, a resident outside the city cannot get either service unless he or she is annexed.

One man, who did not identify himself, said, "The city wants $47,000 to come 900 feet (with the sewer line). That is outlandish. People don't want to be annexed to pay the cost of hookups."

Others cited estimates of $900 to $1,400 for a sewer hookup.

City Manager Wes Hare said the city only charges its costs, at the most, and sometimes loses money on the installation of lines.

"No one is getting rich off the hookups," Hare said. "We try to cover our actual costs."

Hyde said no one who was annexed would be forced to hook up.

He said the city is not seeking to annex the entire urban growth area but is asking people in different areas, such as those off 12th Street, or Otten Drive, or on the north side around Fourth Street. "It would be strictly voluntary. Even if there is interest in annexation in a particular area, a triple majority would be required."

That involves getting approval from more than 50 percent of the land mass, more than 50 percent of the valuation of the properties and more than 50 percent of the owners.

If a sewer fails and a family seeks annexation later, there is a $1,000 processing fee, Hyde said.

A phased-in property tax proposal over a five-year period did not interest the residents either.

Jack Johnson said the process the city is using is flawed because it does not consider the total urban growth area. He read from the League of Oregon Cities documents that discussed annexation methods.

Hare said, "We wouldn't want to piecemeal (any annexations). We are basically already providing basic services (to people in the urban growth area). If we have to wait until people start moving into the area, it becomes even more difficult."

He said annexation brings full services of the city, including things people don't ordinarily think of, such as economic development, parks and recreation, and others.

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