No Annexation Without Representation

Originally appeared in Fort Collins Forum

February 2007
Eric Fried

If the 3,000 residents of the proposed “Southwest Annexation” feel like yo-yos, can you blame them? In the last year, they have been out, in, out and soon finally in (our out!) of the City of Fort Collins.

Since their lots were first developed, the people living in the area generally south of Harmony and west of College were in the county. As the City of Fort Collins grew right up to them, and annexed open space surrounding them, they became what is ominously called “an enclave.” By state law, once an enclave is completely surrounded, it can be annexed without consent of the property owners.

As the residents made clear they wanted no part of Fort Collins, city staff spent a lot of time meeting with them, listening to their concerns, and then doing what they planned to do all along. After an October 2006 City Council vote to annex them against their will, the southwestistas were in the city. So they gathered signatures and filed petitions for a special election to force a vote of the people on the annexation, which would have put them back in the county pending the vote. The City Clerk invalidated some signatures, so the election was off and they were still in the city. Except…they gathered just enough new signatures to get back on the ballot, so they’re in the county again pending the April election. Ironically, only city voters get to vote on the annexation, so the people being annexed (or not!) don’t get to vote on their fate. Is that clear as mud?

At least this much seems clear: the overwhelming majority of the residents don’t want to be annexed. Why should we force them? If anyone has made a convincing argument, I have yet to hear it.

Why annex? First, the City and County have an Intergovernmental Agreement that county enclaves MUST BE annexed by the City. This is just a bureaucratic excuse. There are plenty of county enclaves surrounded by Loveland – real sections of Loveland, not Loveland-owned open space – and they are not being annexed. Intergovernmental agreements can be altered by simple consent of both governments. If this one is not followed, will the County actually sue the City to force them to take the unwilling residents? Don’t bet on it.

Second, the City can provide better services to urban enclaves. Exactly what services will the residents get for their higher taxes? They already have gas, electric, water, trash and recycling pickup, police and fire, road maintenance, sewer and storm runoff, and land use planning. In case you’ve been living under a rock, the City is broke and has admitted it can’t afford more police to properly serve the annexation area. Poudre Fire already serves the area, and all utilities are in place. Generally, the City installs sidewalks, curbs and gutters, but some of the areas involved already have them, and others may not get them for years. North College has been in the City for years, and last I checked much of that area still lacks sidewalks. Besides, I have not heard one resident say their life is hardly worth living because they lack sidewalks. They like the more rural lifestyle, the looser zoning and animal regulations, and the lower taxes. If the tradeoff is walking on the shoulder of the road, it’s worth it.

Finally, annexation is needed for proper city planning and municipal growth. Now we’re getting to the real issue. The open secret is the City does not trust the County to properly manage land use, and considers the rebellious residents in the Southwest merely an impediment to their master plan. But “shut up and submit” is hardly a compelling argument in a democracy.

Fort Collins’ state Senator Steve Johnson is pushing a bill through the state legislature forbidding such annexations without a vote of the residents. We city residents should vote down the proposed annexation, support Sen. Johnson’s bill, and let the people directly affected vote. If the City can’t convince the residents to join, then just leave them alone and try to sweet-talk them again later. The last thing we need is an unhappy separatist movement on our southwest border, right?

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