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Poulsbo opts not to extend its utilities

POULSBO — Planning to weather the annexation storm stirred up by a March 14 Supreme Court decision, city council Wednesday night decided to batten down its hatches with the hope that the state legislature will stop blowing sunshine and bring some decent weather.

Prior to the March decision, Poulsbo — and cities throughout the state — relied almost exclusively on annexation agreements as a tool to extend water and sewer services. The process, which was deemed unconstitutional by the court, worked wonders for cities and allowed them to offer such utilities to residents and businesses outside the city without the fear of getting nothing in return.

Now, this fear is being realized and as a result, cities are pulling in their services or are choosing not to offer them outside their limits.

Despite this, Poulsbo still must extend its water and sewer utilities westward through Puget Sound Energy’s property to ensure Olympic College construction can proceed. Other than that project, though, city officials feel a moratorium on extensions would be the best route to take until the legislature steps in with a decision.

“We anticipate legislative action on this. In light of that, we recommend a moratorium on utility extensions,” Planning Director Glenn Gross explained.

Gross, Finance Director Donna Bjorkman and Public Works Supt. Bill Duffy led a special workshop on the issue Wednesday, each offering their recommendations to the city council.

The trio cautioned against future extensions, noting that doing so would not only promote urban sprawl and expensive infrastructure problems for the city but would also create serious dilemmas in terms of future annexations into Poulsbo.

“If we’re going to run services from the city to Olhava, why not make a return on the investment?” Councilman Dale Rudolph asked.

“If we extend them and allow services we’ll lose our hammer,” said Bjorkman, noting that the residents would have no reason to annex into the city once water and sewer had been provided and Poulsbo could kiss additional tax revenues from those homes and businesses good bye.

Even so, Bjorkman said she was concerned that the policy of extending services without offering hook ups would put the infrastructure expense burden on the backs of existing city taxpayers. This will likely be the case until the annexation agreement tool is restored.

“I have concerns about the land use patterns that this may create,” Gross said, noting that extending services for water and not sewer would result in odd-sized parcels throughout the Urban Growth Area. “What we could have is a land use pattern that is sprawl.”

The city could also face “stymied growth,” he added — both in terms of its physical size and its pocketbook.

“I really do believe the legislature will address this issue — the AWC is on this,”

Councilwoman Jackie Aitchison said, adding that either way she felt it was important that emergency services and water were offered if needed, citing the possibility of failing wells and septic tanks.

While council agreed to add this stipulation, Gross pointed out that Poulsbo’s position could be worse.

“I think there is a positive note in that we’re not alone,” he remarked. “If we can just maintain, we should get through this.”

What Poulsbo will do:

• Maintain a policy which prohibits the extension of city services and utilities to a property located outside its limits until that property is annexed.

• Proceed with ongoing annexation plans on North Viking Avenue.

• Utilize the election method of annexation in the short term if feasible.

• Contact state legislators and voice the city’s concerns.

• Participate with the Association of Washington Cities to prepare proposed legislative amendments.

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