State law allows cities to forcibly annex outlying properties but Forest Grove officials have so far resisted that route

Forest Grove officials are making another effort to eliminate 'islands' of unincorporated land inside the city's boundaries, but they're taking their time in doing so.

Several years ago, city councilors began looking at more than 200 properties, which are surrounded by the city but legally not part of it. Owners of these 'islands' don't pay city property taxes or fees and aren't subject to city ordinances (instead, they must follow Washington County regulations). But they don't get certain city services, including sewer and police protection and pay a premium to receive city water.

State law allows cities to forcibly annex such properties and many in Oregon have done so. But Forest Grove officials have so far resisted that route, even though they say these pockets of unincorporated properties make it difficult to plan for city sidewalks, coordinate police protection and monitor compliance with city regulations.

A few years back they offered some incentives to property owners and in early 2007 were able to bring 114 parcels inside the city limits, leaving 108 'islands.'

Earlier this year councilors invited those property owners to an open house to learn about how annexation could affect them. Jon Holan, the city's development director, said that about 20 people showed up and mostly said they didn't want a change. The next step was to get council approval to set a public hearing on the matter. Councilors did that Monday, but not before getting an earful from a handful of 'islanders' who see little benefit from annexation.

'There's nothing the city of Forest Grove can offer me other than a higher tax bill,' said Ron Howden, who lives on Raymond Street, west of Sunset Drive, between Bonnie Lane and Willamina.

Ben Knopp, who lives on Gales Creek Road, just west of Thatcher Road, said he's happy to pay the higher water bills in exchange for the lower taxes and freedom from city regulations, such as those that protect 'significant' trees. 'I'm a believer in personal freedoms,' he said. 'If I want to cut down a tree, I don't want to have to ask anyone's permission.'

Councilors were not surprised to hear from annexation opponents, but they were concerned that only about 25 affected property owners have showed up at the two public forums so far.

'There's three-quarters that we haven't heard from yet,' said Councilor Victoria Lowe. 'I don't want to stop the voices, but I would like to hear from more voices.'

Councilors could have set a public hearing for July, but instead pushed the date back to Sept. 12, to give Holan time to contact all the 'islanders' and offer them a chance to weigh in.

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