|Written by Greg Ruland|
|Sunday, 16 October 2011 00:00|
All but five of the nearly 200 Cornville residents at a two-hour public hearing Oct. 6 spoke against a “democratic process” known as the annexation petition.
Nevertheless, Verde Santa Fe property owners who favor annexation won a chance to officially register their preference through a petition drive after Cottonwood City Council directed staff to advance the annexation process.
Because of the vote, should a majority of Verde Santa Fe property owners sign a petition within a year, the rural village of 2,000 people would likely be annexed into Cottonwood city limits.
To qualify, those who sign, taken together, must also represent ownership of more than 50 percent of the total assessed value of all real property in Verde Santa Fe.
Should that happen, another public hearing will be held where council must officially approve the annexation ordinance.
Most who spoke, about 25 in all, advocated against annexation. Most were civil and polite.
Those who were not received a stern reaction from Mayor Diane Joens and Vice Mayor Karen Pfeiffer.
The city’s role is ministerial. It will not distribute petitions, only supporters and their agents will do that, Community Development Director George Gehlert said.
Council is essentially neutral on the question, Councilman Tim Elinski said
Joens was stern with those who applauded or encouraged applause, pounding her gavel repeatedly — at one point threatening to close the hearing if people continued to clap.
At another point, Pfeiffer decried the stink eye some in the crowd threw her way, especially considering what good neighbors each community is to the other.
“I hate annexation,” she said.
Involved with several annexation petition drives during her long years of public service, Pfieffer argued annexations are always controversial and produce only winners and losers.
Both those opposed and in favor gave many reasons, some factual, others emotional, in support of their cause.
Some said annexation would destroy Cornville’s rural nature, their dearest home.
Others said the city was merely seeking to expand its tax base at a time of economic difficulty.
Annexation came to City Hall. City Hall did not seek it., Pfeiffer said.
“Your taxes will go down. The city does not collect property tax.” Joens responded.
There were hidden and expensive capital improvement projects in the future that will make city taxes unbearable, others said. Elderly on fixed incomes will be injured.
City Manager Doug Bartosh denied it. No tax increases or major capital projects are being considered, he said.
Every major financial transaction for the city is scrutinized and planned for as many as 10 years into the future, to anticipate and minimize city debt, Financial Resources General Manager Rudy Rodriquez said.
This included the Cottonwood Recreation Center, paid for with borrowing at a total cost of $18.4 million, Rodriguez said.
Elinski and Councilwoman Linda Norman spoke in favor of the “democratic process” that gives all Verde Santa Fe residents a chance to sign or not sign a petition.
Cornville Community Association President Deanna King questioned the city’s due process and its plan to verify signatures.
Roughly 20 people raised their hand to signify they did not receive notice of that night’s public hearing.
Thirty-six percent of the people in his neighborhood, four of 11, received no notice of the hearing, according to a man who polled his neighbors.
The failure to give notice to “all” property owners invalidated the process under state law, said Cornville resident Roger Reif.
City Attorney Steve Horton said notice was given to all property owners identified on records from Yavapai County Assessor’s Office. Notice was given in compliance with state law.
“I don’t believe the fact that some people may not have received those notices for whatever reason means that we did not comply with that requirement; that the hearing was ‘invalid;’ or that the process of gathering signatures cannot properly proceed,” Horton stated in an email.
Judges will agree with his position, the man argued, implying a lawsuit could result from the vote.
As for verification of signatures, there is none in the absence of a formal protest, Horton said.
All signatures are presumed valid, he said.
Bartosh urged both Cornville and Verde Santa Fe residents to educate themselves about what to expect from joining with the city.
“There is so much information and misinformation out there, we think it’s important you know the facts,” he said.
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