Property owners who ignored carrot now facing stick

After years of debates, deliberations and a fair bit of hand-wringing, the Forest Grove City Council is moving forward to annex 23 unincorporated parcels of property inside its city limits – without their owners’ permission.

These clusters of formerly rural properties--about 75 total acres of largely single homes and vacant lots--are surrounded by neighbors who, over the years, voluntarily sought annexation in order to get access to the city's sewer system, street lights and other urban amenities.

But the owners of the 23 “islands” have held out, rebuffing the city’s advances, which included an incentive program that brought dozens of properties into the city voluntarily five years ago.

Some of the resistance stems from the city’s higher property taxes. A city analysis shows annexation would result in annual tax bills jumping from $100 to $650 a year on these parcels. But the higher tax bills would be offset by lower water fees which, in some instances, would result in overall savings for the property owners. (The city charges extra to provide city water outside its limits.)

City councilors came close to endorsing forced annexation two years ago but held off, as they were about to ask voters to support an operating levy and weren’t eager to pick a fight with a small but vocal group of residents opposing the move.

With the levy passed, the council is now moving forward – and quickly.

At a work session Monday, councilors voiced no objection to a tight timeline, which will put the matter before the city planning commission on Jan. 7, with an open house to follow the next week and a public hearing Jan. 28.

City officials hope to finish their work by the end of March, so the newly annexed properties can be added to next year’s tax rolls, bringing the city an estimated $72,000 in extra revenue.

In addition to the financial benefit, city officials have long argued that annexing the islands will make it easier to deliver police, fire and other services to the properties and allow for uniform code enforcement within the city limits. Currently, the unincorporated properties are served by the county sheriff’s office, the rural fire department and governed by county regulations.

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