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To annex? Auburn plans for the possibility

Auburn Financial Director Shelly Coleman presents the costs of possible annexation of Pacific to the City of Auburn. City Councilmember John Partridge listens intently.  - Robert Whale/Auburn Reporter
Auburn Financial Director Shelly Coleman presents the costs of possible annexation of Pacific to the City of Auburn. City Councilmember John Partridge listens intently.
— image credit: Robert Whale/Auburn Reporter

Auburn's mayor will sign a joint letter of intent with the City of Pacific to annex that city and send the letter to the Boundary Review Boards of King and Pierce counties.

The hope, Auburn leaders said Monday night, is to buy the troubled City of Pacific time to solve its problems — that is, to acquire and keep its insurance so it can stave off disincorporation or annexation.

"What we're really hoping ... is to continue to work on a pretty much daily basis with the City of Pacific to see if we can lend what aid and support we can to get them to have insurance, to continue their council, to continue their city," said Auburn Mayor Pete Lewis.

While the preference is to have the 103-year-old city south of Auburn continue on its own, Lewis added, Auburn, by signing the letter of intent, preserves the option of considering actual annexation at a future date.

Auburn City Attorney Dan Heid said it is critical for Pacific to acquire and keep insurance, as its council members have promised to resign without it, and for annexation to happen, there must be a corresponding City Council to deal with.

The unanimous council vote to proceed with the letter of intent followed presentations by city directors that laid out the pluses and minuses of annexation.

Auburn Financial Director Shelly Coleman said it would require about $5.2 million to run the city of Pacific at Auburn standards, and Pacific has only about $3 million.

Michael Hursh, Auburn's human services director, said annexation would put additional pressure on Auburn's already strained existing human services network to meet the needs of what census data show to be a poorer community.

Kevin Snyder, Auburn's planning and community development director, said annexation would have a relatively mild impact on staffing levels in his department, which could accommodate the additional load. The significant challenge, he said, is the year it would take to deal with the administrative side, that is with files, the updating of internal systems dealing with the overall coordination of clients and with building and code compliance.

On the positive side, said Public Works Director Dennis Dowdy, annexation might "add certainty" to the $4.7 million Stewart Road widening project — from Valentine Road to the State Route 167 ramps — which Pacific is managing. The state Transportation Improvement Board, Dowdy noted, has yet to release the grant funds, which would cover 80 percent of the costs because of Pacific's failure to meet six criteria.

Dowdy said the disadvantages are much more numerous. For one thing, Pacific does not have the major system Auburn depends on to manage the city's infrastructure. That means all of Pacific's infrastructure information, including mapping and street system information, would have to be incorporated. Pacific also lacks a pavement management system and estimates of its deferred street maintenance costs.

"We've got about $69 million of deferred maintenance on our arterial system. If you take the streets of the city of Pacific, you'd be bringing in 27 percent more arterial lane miles, and they are probably in no better condition than our arterial lane miles. So, you are looking at probably another $20 to $27 million on top of the $69 million that we already need," Dowdy said.

State law requires joint action by both cities and the boundary review boards of both counties, should the boards choose to accept jurisdiction over the annexation issue.

State law also requires a 45-day period after the boundary review boards get the jurisdictional question to make up their minds. If at the end of that period the boards have done nothing, state law deems them to have been late.

But if at any time during that 45-day period anybody who qualifies under the statute submits a request for review, the board gets 120 days to make up its collective mind.

For the cities to get on the agenda of the boundary review boards as soon as possible, Heid suggested council members should consider the letter of intent. The letter of intent, Heid added, does not bind Auburn to annex Pacific, it only sets the clock ticking on the process and saves the issue a "place in line" in the convoluted boundary review board process.

"It's expediting the timeline so the players can start taking action," Councilmember Largo Wales said.

One complication is that the City of Sumner has proposed to annex only the southern portions of Pacific, which are in Pierce County, and contain the city's business sector.

"Our real hope," Lewis said, "is that with all that needs to be done, a period of time will pass that will allow the City of Pacific, working as its own government, to solve its own problems, and we're more than happy to help that take place."

The letter must be signed by Auburn's mayor and the Council President of the City of Pacific.

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