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What's next for Damascus?

Clackamas County and Happy Valley update on disincorporation -

FILE PHOTO - The City of Damascus is no more.The process of Damascus’ disincorporation is complex and ongoing, and officials from Clackamas County and Happy Valley came together at the North Clackamas Chamber meeting Monday afternoon, Sept. 12, to share what they have been doing and answer any questions from the 40 people who attended.

On the panel were Nancy Newton, deputy county administrator; Mike McCallister, Clackamas planning director; Matt Ellington, Clackamas undersheriff; Lori DeRemer, Happy Valley mayor; and Jason Tuck, Happy Valley city manager.

Throughout the meeting, the panel made sure to stress this is only the beginning of the discussion, and that nothing is definitive.

“After years of being put in a cage and poked with a stick, the people of Damascus are finally in charge,” said Chris Hawes, communications director for the Citizens Committee for Disincorporation, Damascus. “The people are informed, interested and want to be involved.”

The city of Damascus voted in favor of disincorporation on May 17, and the succession occurred on July 18. Damascus’ lands, businesses and former city residents reverted to Clackamas County jurisdiction, as it was prior to incorporation in 2004.

From the beginning, neighboring Happy Valley says it has tried to remain neutral. DeRemer says they are looking into how best to serve the former citizens of Damascus in the most efficient way possible.

“The goal of this City Council is to be a host, not just take over the animosity of the Damascus City Council,” DeRemer says. “We don’t want to force anybody to do anything. We aren’t here to feel like an authority.”

As more people petition to be incorporated into Happy Valley, the unofficial 177th Avenue boundary keeps creeping to the east. Damascus consisted of about 10,800 acres. So far, 1,000 acres have been incorporated into Happy Valley, and expectations are to eventually welcome about two thirds of the former city.

The process is a simple one-page document to fill out and sign.

The only requirement for annexation is for the property to be contiguous with Happy Valley, though special circumstances can be made for those who fail to meet that clause. Those who don’t want to join should be able to avoid involuntary annexation, Tuck says, as the city has only done it once in the last 80 years.

Neither the school districts or ZIP codes will change because of disincorporation.

Six former city of Damascus employees have been absorbed into the county. All records that were able to be digitized have, and the rest have been securely transferred to the county.

The whole process takes time, as the county works to identify the assets of the former city and reassign them appropriately. Some will be maintained, while others will be sold. The county says it has been careful to maintain a separation between Damascus’ former assets and its own, keeping things clean from a legal standpoint.

“It’s not as easy as saying let’s have a huge yard sale and distribute the money,” Newton said.

The county also is responsible for finding new, one-year employment opportunities for former Damascus city employees.

For the most part, regulations and zoning won’t change much through the process of disincorporation, as the former city of Damascus will be treated the same as any other area in the county. That means that Clackamas County’s marijuana regulations will apply.

“There will be no retail marijuana outlets in Damascus based on our zoning regulations,” McCallister said. “We will also have future discussion about prohibiting growing (marijuana).”

A contract remains in place between the county and Damascus for law enforcement services through July. The four deputies who patrol seven days a week as part of the enhanced patrols will continue, though the black city uniforms will revert to the standard county attire.

“When that contract expires you may see those enhanced patrols go away, and things will go back to standard patrols like any other district,” Ellington said.

That is the most likely outcome unless $1.1 million in funds is raised to renegotiate for enhanced patrols.