Over 500 properties could be affected…
Annexing county ‘islands’ again on Bozeman agenda By Nora Shelly Bozeman Daily Chronicle Staff Writer Nov 10, 2021
Bozeman city commissioners want city staff to develop policies to guide annexing county islands within the city, but if the discussion during their Tuesday night meeting was any indication, there are a number of thorny issues yet to be sorted out.
There are more than 30 islands of county land within the city, with over 500 individual properties, according to City Manager Jeff Mihelich. The city’s policy is to rely on landowner-initiated annexations, which are sometimes sought so people can get city water or sewer or so developers can connect a new subdivision to city utilities.
But pursuing city-initiated annexations has been a priority for years, and commissioners reaffirmed Tuesday they would like it to remain so.
Among the questions that remain are how to prioritize areas for annexation, and how to fund annexations and the associated infrastructure work.“I think, in a perfect world, it would make sense that we annex all the wholly surrounded properties, but I don’t believe we’re living in a perfect world right now,” Commissioner Jennifer Madgic said.
“We have struggles, we have the housing crisis. We have people trying to get back on their feet after a pandemic. I don’t think we need to add to the burden that some people are really feeling whether it’s neighborhood character (or) a rush of change.”
The city is allowed to annex wholly surrounded properties without input from the residents if the existing infrastructure is determined to be adequate.If the city identifies infrastructure deficiencies in area it wants to annex, it is required to develop a capital improvement plan to provide city services to the area. The city would be required to get a 50% vote approval on the plan from the landowners.
If that vote fails, then the properties would not be annexed.Mihelich said the city would work to bring an extension of services plan — basically a framework through which the city can enact annexations — in front of the commission within the next few months. Mihelich said city staff would also work on an implementation plan to address how the city would go about annexations.
Apart from what some city officials have deemed an issue of fairness — county residents within Bozeman use city roads and may use other city services they don’t pay taxes for — Mihelich said having so many pockets of county land within the city can cause other problems.Homes within the 30-odd county islands within Bozeman can become issues when wells or septic systems fail, which can be an environmental hazard. Mihelich said the quality of those systems will differ from property to property.
“I think we do have to give people the opportunity to work with us to see if those facilities are adequate, but my impression is by talking to some folks is that many of these areas that are wholly surrounded have aged facilities,” Mihelich said.
The county islands can also cause confusion when it comes to building development standards, or even things like firework regulations. But they can also get in the way of city planning.“If there’s a doughnut hole, if you will, in an area that’s not annexed, and we want to put a road through, a sewer line through, the water line through, (if) it’s not in the city that could compromise our capital improvements plan,” Mihelich said. “Take a look at different parts of the city and if you wonder, ‘Why wasn’t this road extended?’ It’s probably because there’s a county island.”
Though commissioners want to move ahead with developing an annexation policy, Mihelich noted that it won’t be easy — an understaffed city has a lot of other high pressure priorities, including the housing crisis, and there is no clear source of money to help pay for the annexations.
There is much left to figure out — several commissioners also questioned Mihelich on ways the city could make it less financially painful for those who may be annexed and what other sources of funding may be out there.During public comment, a woman who said she lives in a county island said she appreciated the questions about the potential cost of annexations to homeowners. She also said some are worried that annexations may negatively impact their neighborhoods.
“There’s a lot of concern over losing what we have that is unique and special,” the woman said.Several commissioners noted they would want the city to do extensive communication with those who might be annexed. Deputy Mayor Terry Cunningham said he wants to avoid having annexation lead to the loss of affordable homes, or for it to happen in a checkerboard pattern.“That’s the worst possible situation, is … your home is not able to get rid of waste, and you’ve got to annex into the city and make these connections and so on so forth in a hurried manner. And it creates this ‘that parcel is in the city because they had a failing septic system and their two neighbors are not,’” Cunningham said. “That’s the failure of our current system.”