Friday, February 7, 2020

El Paso County commissioner calls for Senate bill to inhibit city annexations

Posted By on Fri, Feb 7, 2020 at 3:44 PM

click to enlarge El Paso County Commission Chair Mark Waller - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • El Paso County Commission Chair Mark Waller
A bill that would make it harder for cities to annex property is getting a lot of attention, especially in Colorado Springs where the city has shown interest in expanding its boundaries of late.

Senate Bill 147, proposed by Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, would restrict which properties could be sucked into a city's limits. Now, an area can't be annexed unless one-sixth of the perimeter of the land area is contiguous with the municipality. Gardner's bill would enlarge that to one-third.

Gardner was urged to propose the bill by El Paso County Commission Chair Mark Waller, himself a former state lawmaker, who argues that under current rules, the city calls all the shots and the county has little say-so.

"As we have more pressure on the rural-urban interface, I think we need to have more collaboration in development and annexation policies," Waller tells the Indy by phone.

"Now, cities have complete control of what gets annexed and what doesn't," he says. "The county doesn't have any control. We need to have a seat at the table."

Waller says when the city annexes property without county input, it can end up leaving the county with a big bill to pay for roads requiring upgrades that are left in the county while abutting the city.

The poster child for this, he says, was the annexation of the Air Force Academy's site for a new visitors center, office space and hotel at the north gate. The annexation included Northgate Boulevard east and west of Interstate 25 but didn't include the interchange, leaving that to the county to pick up the $5 million to $10 million tab for an overhaul when the visitors center attracts larger volumes of traffic and makes the work necessary. Waller is quick to explain the county was able to resolve the issue by forfeiting county sales tax toward the project through the city's Urban Renewal Authority.

click to enlarge A map showing the city's annexation of property to bring the proposed Air Force Academy's new visitors center into the city limits. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy city of Colorado Springs
  • A map showing the city's annexation of property to bring the proposed Air Force Academy's new visitors center into the city limits.
"We got rid of the problem," he says, "but we gave up a lot of sales tax."

He calls Marksheffel Road on the city's east side "an absolute mess," and another example of the city's annexation maneuvers. The road flows in and out of the city, changing from two lanes to four and back to two.

Waller thinks a state law that forces more discussion might help, though he says at least one of his commissioner colleagues feels an intergovernmental agreement could accomplish the cooperation needed. Problem is, Waller says, nothing has materialized in the way of an IGA.

"I don't care how we do it," he says, adding that he hopes the proposed Senate bill will bring the city to the table.

That's far from certain, following what City Councilor Jill Gaebler describes as a contentious city-county meeting held last week. Gaebler agrees the city and county need to better-coordinate development, to avoid the city eventually annexing subdivisions that contain roads and other infrastructure built to lower standards than the city requires.

In a Feb. 7 email to the Indy, she says:
As you know, CSU [Colorado Springs Utilities] is currently working to establish an annexation policy that allows us to protect our current ratepayers' water access, while considering how we can annex new areas that are likely to be out of ground water in the short-term. We host our third water workshop next Wednesday before our CSU Board Meeting. These meetings have been open to the public and the County has been invited.

As Commissioner Waller stated in his State of Region address that he wanted more collaboration within our region, it is disappointing to know that he has secretly been working on a bill that would significantly harm Colorado Springs and the 270 other municipalities within our state. And he did all of this without any communication with us, or working with us to draft a bill that would benefit our entire region.
The city also is in the process of annexing more land in its northeast sector and has expressed interest in bringing the business district in unincorporated Falcon into the city to snare sales tax from those businesses.

The Colorado Municipal League is in Colorado Springs' corner on this one, posting an explanation of the bill and why it opposes the measure on its website, as follows:
SB 147 substantially modifies and changes the municipal annexation statue in title 31. Of note, major changes identified in the proposed legislation include:
1. Under current law, municipal annexation requires 1/6 contiguity in order for a parcel of land to be considered for annexation. SB 147 doubles the contiguity requirement to 1/3. This will significantly limit municipal authority to annex, creating a burden on property owners.

2. Would prohibit any annexation from crossing a county road or other county-owned property without consent from the county. This may severely limit an annexation and negatively impact a landowner who has requested to be annexed into the municipality.

3. Currently, municipalities adopt and regularly update a so-called “three mile plan” as a pre-requisite to annexation. SB 147 requires that the municipality put into place a comprehensive annexation plan for the area, and that the plan be adopted at least two years in advance of any annexation. It is unclear if the current requirement of a three mile plan and the new comprehensive plan would be duplicative of one another or two separate requirements.

4. As a new proposal, if at least 1/3 of the land proposed to be annexed has been used for agricultural purposes within the last three years, a county may challenge the annexation.

5. Under the proposed language, counties would be given authority to veto any county-owned land in an annexation absent an IGA. The bill also contains language suggesting that counties may use this power to force municipalities to enter into an “operations and maintenance agreement” before any county-owned facility can be annexed (this is not an enforceable principle and may result in additional litigation between the two parties).

6. SB 147 would require that an IGA between a municipality and county first be settled before a property owner may petition for annexation. This ultimately forces property owners to be responsible for the county-municipality IGA.

For several years, elected officials at the local level have successfully resolved disagreements surrounding proposed annexation. SB 147 proposes to make sweeping changes to the annexation statute without a significant demonstrated need. Prior to introduction, CML and its membership was not notified or consulted on the necessity for statewide legislation, and believes that if changes are to be made, robust conversations between stakeholders need to occur.
The fiscal note from the Legislative Council staff notes the bill would increase administrative workload for cities for annexations, including oversight and legal review. But counties, too, would see higher costs for administration in review of annexation proposals, the staff noted.

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