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Court ruling reverses annexation law in state

Just as Sunnyside was changing all the forms for its annexation process, the Washington State Supreme Court reversed itself and upheld the petition method of municipal annexation, which has been used in the state for nearly 50 years.

According to acting City Manager Mark Kunkler, this is good news because it means that annexations made prior to the law change will be accepted as good.

Under the original annexation rule, which has been in effect for 50 years, owners of 10 percent of the property to be annexed could start the petition annexation process. If there was a 60 percent approval, the property would be annexed, said Kunkler.

Kunkler said the old method was determined unconstitutional because it didn't recognize registered voters.

Under the new rule, which was put into effect last summer, the majority of the property owners and the majority of the registered voters who owned property in the proposed annexed area would have to approve the annexation via an election before the annexation could be completed.

According to Kristen Swain, Governmental Affairs Director for Land Use Policy for the Association of Washington Business, the election method is rarely used by cities because of the high overhead costs of running a single-issue election and the uncertainty of the outcome in city planning.

She said that the court's initial decision left property owners in unincorporated urban areas unable to bargain with the city for extensions of utilities and infrastructure in exchange for signing a petition for future annexation.

"This put development of new residential, commercial and industrial projects on hold as cities refused to extend services," said Sawin.

She added that businesses, who are by definition not voters, had no way to petition the city for annexation or extension of services.

Kunkler said although there are still questions about the future of the annexation process, Sunnyside should be able to continue annexing property into the city limits.

"We can proceed with our annexations that we currently have," he said.

He said he anticipates the city will proceed as usual processing annexations.

. Melissa Browning can be contacted at (509) 837-4500, or e-mail mbrowning@eaglenewspapers.com

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