Madras annexes islands
In the years he has lived in the Bel-Air neighborhood in northeast Madras, Orville Prince can recall at least three times that the city of Madras has attempted to annex his neighborhood.
Each of those times, residents were "overwhelmingly against annexation" when they cast their ballots, said Prince in an annexation hearing at the March 11 Madras City Council meeting.
This time, the city did not have to take the question to voters, since Bel-Air and Herzberg Heights, as well as two other areas in east Madras, were all surrounded by the city.
"State law allows annexing these islands into the city," said City Administrator Mike Morgan, noting that the annexation wouldn't become effective for three years unless an individual property changed ownership, at which time it would be annexed.
Prince, who had attended the earlier Madras Planning Commission hearing to express his disapproval of the annexation, was one of several residents who asked the council to "Listen to the will of the people."
Tom Brown, chairman of the Planning Commission, said that many more residents attended the Feb. 20 hearing before the commission recommended that the City Council approve the annexation.
Brown said he was particularly struck by the comments of one woman who advocated for the annexation, saying that by taking a walk on a warm summer night, it becomes obvious that, "There are (septic) systems that have failed."
If a septic system fails and city sewer lines are within 300 feet, the state can require a resident -- either in or outside city limits -- to hook up to the city system. Those outside the city system, who have not signed annexation agreements, pay two and one-half times the city's sewer rate.
Resident Martin Zimmerman said he would like to support the annexation. "Change is inevitable," he said. "First, I want to know how much it's going to cost."
Councilor Walt Chamberlain advised the council to "answer the man's question," he said. "Let's not dance around the issue."
City officials said the cost would depend on how close city sewer lines are to a property, and whether or not a resident's septic system or dry well has failed. (See box on this page.)
In the area, there are currently about 17 dry wells -- drainage pits for leaching liquid waste -- which are no longer allowed by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
Even if the area is annexed, said Morgan, residents with septic systems won't be required to connect to the city system until their system fails.
In the meantime, as the city collects system development charges for sewer, it will continue to extend its lines into the area.
"Give us a couple years; we'll be there," he said. "If you want to do it now, it will cost you more."
Resident Don Cox was more concerned about having to pay city taxes. "It's the increase in taxes that's going to put the big pinch on the neighborhood," he said.
Morgan pointed out that the area is already using city services without paying for them -- including police response, city streets and sewer.
Police Chief Tom Adams agreed, "There are several houses up there that are already in the city limits and we respond as backup to the county."
The council voted unanimously to approve the annexation, including more than 130 properties, with Chamberlain abstaining.
Besides Bel-Air, the other two areas annexed include property north of E Street, between City View and Kinkade Road, and property between E Street and Buff Street, on either side of Kinkade Road.
Beginning in 2011, the new city residents will pay an additional city tax -- currently about $4.12 per $1,000 of assessed property value, equaling about $412 annually on a $100,000 house.
Councilor Royce Embanks said that before its decision, the city held open meetings. "We don't come in and force people to do things," he said.
"They're difficult decisions, but we have to think about the good of the city," he continued. "We try to think far enough ahead that some city council doesn't have to deal with it five years down the road."
They've heard and are a little weary of all the fowl jokes -- but the City Council is not yet ready to revise its animal ordinance.
At its last meeting, the council considered banning city residents from keeping fowl -- including chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, peacocks or pheasants.
"I believe that people should be allowed to own chickens (in the city limits)," said Embanks.
Chamberlain suggested that fowl already maintained within the city limits could be grandfathered in. "I'm thinking lot size should play into it," he added.
Councilor Melanie Widmer was also against an outright ban, commenting, "Portland allows three chickens. It's got to be complaint driven."
The council voted to refer the issue to the Madras Public Safety Commission for further input.