Printed on: July 10, 2013

Council: City has its limits

By CHRISTINA LORDS
clords@postregister.com

The Idaho Falls City Council will re-examine its annexation policy after a recent request raised concerns of some council members and city staff.

The decision to re-evaluate the policy came after a request was submitted to the city to provide sewer services for a property outside city limits.

In a June 19 letter, Nathan Taylor of the Eastern Idaho Public Health District requested the city provide sewer services and cost estimates for an application by the Wats Development Subdivision. The subdivision is located south of West Sunnyside Road and east of South Bellin Road.

The commercial property is owned by Stafford Smith. Smith is not seeking annexation into the city.

"The applicant has requested the subdivision be served by individual onsite septic systems," the letter said. "It is my understanding that a city of Idaho Falls central sewer line is immediately adjacent to this property and may be reasonably accessible."

Taylor told council members at a work session Monday that septic systems are not the preferred method of handling waste and the health district seeks other alternatives when available.

"Whatever your policy is, we want to work with that," Taylor told the council.

Councilman Thomas Hally said approving requests for services outside of the city limits should be limited because those applicants do not pay annexation fees, city property taxes and other revenue into Idaho Falls.

"We get some (applicants) that want what the city has but don't want to be a part of the city," Hally said. "That doesn't sit well with a lot of people. It's like you want to play (at) my country club, but you don't want to pay the dues."

City Attorney Randy Fife, Public Works Director Chris Frederickson and Planning and Building Director Renee Magee are now tasked with tightening the city's annexation rules.

The update will reinforce the city's current policy that if a development contiguous to city limits requests to use city services, it must annex into the city. The goal of the revamped policy is to close legal loopholes and create stronger contracts between the city and its applicants.

"You have to ask yourselves why you would give away the most important services you have," Magee told the council.

The revised rules would include a limited amount of exceptions, such as new schools or nonprofit organizations.

There are dozens of examples of properties that use city services but have not been annexed into the city, Frederickson said. A more streamlined, consistent approach would help the city process requests like the one for the Smith property.

"I don't think it's ever been about the cost of the utilities (for those properties)," he said. "It's the cost of the taxes."