City council approves annexation despite public outcry.
Will Tetonia become a “Taxonia?”
Wednesday night was a sad night for Tetonia taxpayers and the democratic process. About 50 people packed into the Tetonia fire hall to voice their opinions on the controversial proposal to annex 267 acres of sensitive wetlands and also wildlife habitat. Struggling to voice their opinions within the 3-minute time limit imposed by city council, most members of the pubic spoke in opposition, including the Tetonia P&Z who defended their unanimous decision to recommend denial. There were numerous opposition letters submitted into the record, as well as a petition against annexation that was signed by 49 Tetonia residents. The public emphasized the need for these Tetonia officials to respect the wishes of town voters. They were also extremely concerned with increased taxes and municipal fees.
VARD requested Mayor Jardine and Councilman Armstrong recuse themselves from the hearing because their statements to the media and the public at large demonstrated their bias towards the proposal and they will vote for the annexation no matter what. VARD also suggested that the hearing be cancelled and remanded back to P&Z so the city could properly follow its own hearing procedures this time around. The city declined both of our requests.
During the brief deliberation, every single city council member said that they were uncomfortable with the lack of information in the applicant’s packet, and did not entirely know what the costs of this annexation would be.
Despite these uncertainties, the mayor kept persuading city council with his own version of the facts. At one point, he opined that the city would most likely only have to pay for ½ the cost of the road maintenance, because he was certain the road would be split down the middle with the county. This is directly contrary to state law – Tetonia will have to assume control of the entire road. He also stated that the early annexations by the city of Victor seemed ill-planned at first, but have served them well as now the town is thriving. It is well known that Victor’s “octopus-like” annexations have drained the city’s budget, and Victor does not even have the sewer capacity to service all of these recorded lots. Downtown Victor is thriving because the city now discourages sprawl and has focused its efforts on in-filling the town core. The mayor did concede that city fees may still go up even with the annexation because a pump station may be necessary to provide sewer service to the area.
Tierra Ball moved to table to application for more consideration, but the motion was not seconded. Deck Green moved to deny the application, and this was also not seconded. Then Orville Armstrong moved to approve the application, which was then supported by Tierra Ball and Tom Abbott. Deck Green was the only one who voted in opposition.
This decision by city council will certainly cost Tetonia taxpayers the most. With over $154,000,000 in Teton Valley foreclosures this year – it could be decades before there is ever a successful residential development on the property. Furthermore, it is well established that residential development simply does not pay for itself: It will be expensive and timely to successfully transfer and drill a viable city well from the property. Sewer service also looks to be expensive because of the pump station. Then there are roads. The city will grapple with a 15% increase in their roads, but because they will only get $43.07 in property taxes, city residents will subsidize 98.2% of the costs for just road maintenance and upkeep alone. The levies and fees imposed to cover these costs may turn Tetonia into a “Taxonia.”