|Volume 7, Issue 8||
Residents plan effort to create a new city
|The blue area is unincorporated Washington County. The Cedar Creek group is inviting residents throughout this area to consider incorporation and to sign their petition demonstrating interest in a new city. Note: boundaries may not be accurate to fine detail. Click to enlarge|
A group of citizens from Bethany and Rock Creek are launching a campaign to determine if there is citizen interest in forming a new city comprised of areas north (and possibly west) of Beaverton city limits.
Lori Waldo, of Cedar Creek Community, says, “This effort is planned to bring citizens together to determine their future versus having it determined for them and around them. Once we find out if there is support for our effort, we will find funding for a feasibility study that will include fact gathering, visioning workshops and analysis. Empowered with data, our citizens will then know what it would cost to stand on our own and what we will get for our money. If we don’t find a strong business case for going it on our own, we’ll have the data to begin negotiating with the surrounding cities.”
The city they propose would be able to collect taxes from its residents and would have an elected mayor and council. Residents would continue to receive services from all the current providers (fire, sheriff, water etc.) but the new city would deliver “five-, ten- and 20-year roadmaps that ensure our service levels can be maintained as effectively as possible.” Waldo says that many of the details of how the city would operate and what would change will be determined through public discussions and the feasibility study.
Their main contention is that doing nothing is not an option because Beaverton and Hillsboro are the designated providers of governance for all new UGB expansions north of Highway 26, and we will end up surrounded by them with little voice in how they are developed.
Cedar Mill, Bethany, Cedar Hills and Rock Creek are part of the large contingent of communities in Washington County that are urbanized areas but not part of a city. Approximately 200,000 people county-wide live in Urban Unincorporated Areas (UUAs). This is an unusual situation compared to most areas around the country, where cities have annexed surrounding areas as they urbanize.
We discussed the developments that led to this situation in our “Urban Needs, Rural Government” series (cedarmill.org/news/UrbanNeeds) but it boils down to this: when Washington County began to develop rapidly in the ‘50s and ‘60s, developers provided the urban-type services (water, sewers) that cities normally provide because the neighboring cities (Beaverton, Portland) weren’t ready to grow into the area. During the ‘70s and ‘80s these small districts were combined to eventually become Tualatin Valley Water and Clean Water Services, and were joined by large agencies such as Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District, the Beaverton School District, and Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue that provide our needed services. The county created special districts including the Urban Road Maintenance District and the Enhanced Sheriff’s Patrol District with additional taxes to support urban-level services.
All along, however, it was expected that cities would eventually annex these areas and take over urban service provision. County governments usually provide services to the rural areas outside cities. But the success of the special districts and service providers had created a “monster,” an urban population that was quite content with the services it had and wasn’t anxious to join a city (and pay higher taxes).
When Beaverton began to annex parts of Cedar Mill in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, (see map) citizens reacted with dismay and the county objected to “cherry stem” annexations of roads with the object of connecting to or encircling target areas. Beaverton suspended the annexation drive and things have stayed the same, with parts of our major roads (Barnes, Cornell, Cedar Hills Blvd) and islands of property (Timberland, Home Depot) in Beaverton, but the majority of the area is still UUA.
In the traditional way of thinking, and as called for by state law, cities are the preferred providers of urban services. State tax structure favors cities with revenues unavailable to counties, and gives cities certain powers to annex areas into their jurisdiction, although their power has been limited in recent years by legislation requiring voter approval in more cases and giving more weight to the votes of the “to-be-annexed” citizens.
However, various developments over the last ten years seem to indicate that Washington County is getting closer to accepting responsibility for providing urban services, as long as adequate funding and legal authority is in place.
The County Commissioner representing our area, Desari Strader, was instrumental in convening the Urbanization Forum as a way to address the situation. Representatives of 21 jurisdictions, including ten cities, four service districts, and several county agencies along with county elected officials sat around a table for four public sessions between April and December 2008. Mark Cushing, a member of Tonkon Torp’s Government Relations & Public Policy Group, was hired by the county to facilitate the Forum.
In early 2009, separate discussions were held in seven areas of existing UUAs to ask whether the nearest city had an immediate aspiration to annex; what changes communities wanted in their governance, if any; and whether the county and relevant districts would be able to provide an appropriate level of service in the future.
In the Cedar Mill discussion, we were told that Beaverton had no short-range plans to annex, and that additional revenue was needed to continue county services in the long term. Citizen representatives expressed an interest in receiving increased services in urban planning and a more local voice in how we grow; and better community amenities, such as bike and pedestrian connections, public spaces and activities.
The Forum produced a draft resolution that has been making the rounds of city councils and other member jurisdictions for adoption. The amended version was just signed by the Washington County Commission at the July 21, 2009 meeting. (The resolution and transmittal letter are available on the County website at co.washington.or.us/BOC/urbanization-forum-resolution.cfm) Most of the resolution expresses policies for areas not yet part of the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB). The signers are asking Metro to ensure that all new UGB expansions are contiguous to a city so they can easily be annexed at the time of the expansion. Washington County expressed its strong opposition to “cherry stems.”
One clause of the resolution, however, addresses the existing UUAs. It states that the Forum participants will assist “in identifying and developing financial tools for Washington County to utilize funds collected from urban unincorporated areas” and help pass any needed legislation to make this possible in areas where cities are not pursuing annexation, “to provide urban services as needed to such areas while they remain outside the governance of Cities without unduly reducing countywide services paid for by all county residents.”
Cities receive several “pots” of money that aren’t available to counties under current state law, including franchise fees from utilities, portions of gas and other state taxes, federal revenue sharing and other funds. County Administrator Bob Davis says, “This issue has been around for as long as I’ve worked here. Solving it is a long-term undertaking. If there are areas where we are to be both city and county, we will need these new financial tools, and we’ll need support to get legislation that will bring us the needed revenue.” He feels that the Forum resolution in part represents cities buying into this process.
Davis says the Forum process is not over. Cushing is still under contract and will continue to coordinate the discussion on how the county will serve the UUAs. The summary issued by Cushing in January included recommendations to continue the group discussions involving communities and Forum members in exploring governance options—“the status quo, incorporation, creation of one or more Service Districts, or annexation terms for the relevant city. This working group should consider the relative merits and issues surrounding area-by-area service districts for expanded services to unincorporated Washington County or a county-wide service district to do the same.”
Cushing says, “The Urbanization Forum will be initiating citizen-government working groups in areas of interest. Issues will be whether citizens want expanded services, financing tools to meet such needs, and the broader question of whether any changes are needed in governance structures.”
Former County Commissioner John Leeper strongly supports the idea of special service districts to provide the missing urban services. He proposes holding discussions in four areas—north of Highway 26, Aloha, Metzger, and Bull Mountain—to determine community interest and needs. If an area wants a change from the status quo, a service district proposal would specify what would be provided and what taxes would be needed to pay for the services, and then a vote would be held in that area. He doesn’t feel that there is a sufficient tax base to support a new city and doesn’t support the Cedar Creek Community effort.
CPO 1 Chair Bruce Bartlett also opposes the effort. He says, “The very existence of the Urbanization Forum is loud testimony that the county is starting to deal with the UUAs. From a triage perspective, nothing has to be done with the UUAs, they are simply performing as they have—”Good Enough”. There are no problems in the UUA that even come close to approaching the serious magnitude of the problems in the Health and Human Service domain, for example.” He has long supported annexation to Beaverton as the best long-term solution for Cedar Mill, but is willing to investigate the expanded service district approach.
Perhaps the biggest challenge that the “Cedar Creek” group faces is the general attitude among area residents that we are doing fine without a city and its taxes and increased “interference” in our lives. It’s hard for people to relate their minor complaints—no sidewalks, neighbors with messy yards, incompatibly dense new developments in their neighborhoods—to the lack of a city government. It’s also unclear that having one would solve these problems quickly or at all.
The benefits and drawbacks should become more defined as the group unfolds its plans. Visit the website cedarcreekcommunity.org for more information as the campaign unfolds.
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