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St. Helens explores changes to annexation process

Conversations include ideas to remove public vote on all annexations

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - Jacob Graichen, St. Helens city planner, addresses the St. Helens City Council on Wednesday, Jan. 6. Graichen suggested the City Council ask voters to approve revisions to the the city's annexation process before the May 2016 election.The St. Helens City Council and staff members began discussions Wednesday, Jan. 6, about asking voters to change the city’s property annexation process.

During a City Council work session, Jacob Graichen, the city planner, presented information suggesting the council ask voters to amend a portion of the city’s charter regarding land incorporation and eliminate the need for residents to vote on future property annexations.

Oregon law requires annexations to be put to a public vote, except cases that involve public safety or the consent of the property owner.

However, St. Helens city law currently requires all annexations be approved by a public vote. Any property owner who wants land incorporated into the city must apply and then have the matter put to a vote by city residents.

If applicants want voters to decide the issue before a regular election, they must pay a $2,040 deposit fee in addition to the $1,020 application fee.

Graichen suggested the council put a measure out to St. Helens residents to remove the requirement of voter approval. By simplifying the annexation process, it eliminates a “time consuming” burden on city staff and the applicants themselves, he explained.

The city charter was amended in 1997 to require a majority of voter approval to incorporate land into the city. According to Graichen, no annexations have been denied by voters since 2007 when he began working for the city.

Graichen is expected to present the City Council with a city charter amendment in the near future, and voters will likely see the measure on the May 2016 ballot.