Petitioners approach the Washington County Board of Commissioners asking the issue be decided by the voters

The annexation of Newberg and rural areas to the north into the Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue district hit a significant snag in mid-December.

The Washington County Board of Commissioners, which must sign off on the annexations under state law, approved the move, but only on the condition that it go to a vote of the hundreds of thousands of homeowners that reside within the existing TVF&R district.

The commission acted on the advice of Washington County Counsel Alan Rappleyea, who said state statute requires the annexation go to a vote if, in this case, at least 100 members of the district request it. Rappelyea said a petition with sufficient signatures was delivered to county offices on Dec. 19, the day the commission was to deliberate.

"This is a somewhat difficult process because we have just 100 electors forcing a vote of 270,000 to 280,000 people out there (in the district) …," he said. "I can't imagine the voters of the district are going to care that much because their taxes aren't going to go up. It's just going to whether they should serve the people of Newberg and the rural fire district."

TVF&R officials testified before the commission Dec. 19, primarily arguing that the legal requirements of the petitions weren't met.

"Because people can be told a lot of things and sign their name to something, but not have the full picture of the impacts or any information, and we didn't feel that they met those legal requirements that are spelled out pretty clearly in the law," said Cassandra Ulven, a TVF&R spokeswoman. "But the Washington County commission decided to accept those petitions and they are the ones that ultimately get to decide."

She added that 220 electors that live within TVF&R's existing district signed the petition requiring a vote on the Newberg annexation. One-hundred-ninety electors called for a vote on bringing rural Newberg customers into the district.

"So, that means the TVF&R voters will decide whether or not to allow the city of Newberg and Newberg rural (fire district) to be permanently part of TVF&R," she said.

Ulven said there are roughly 300,000 residents now within TVF&R's district, so those calling for a vote on this issue were few. "I haven't done the math on that, but that's a very, very small percentage of the overall number of voters we have in our district."

What was the reasoning for bringing it to a vote?

"The only insight we were able to gather on Tuesday evening is that the one person that basically spearheaded the gathering of those signatures felt like we were growing too big too fast and wanted the opportunity to vote," Ulven said.

TVF&R could have called for a writ of mandamus seeking to have a judge override the petition, but chose not to because they can maintain the timeline for starting service to begin in Newberg in July regardless of the vote. Instead, TVF&R officials filed a ballot statement on Dec. 21 and the issue will go to the voters in March. TVF&R has already received preliminary approval from the Department of Revenue to begin levying taxes and the annexation applications are complete, Ulven said.

The election won't come without considerable cost to TVF&R, about $1 per vote or about $300,000 total. It isn't likely, but TVF&R would prefer that Washington County help pay for the election.

"Because we are disappointed in the decision that they made, especially when the elected bodies of TVF&R … that are elected to represent TVF&R, decided last July that this was a good fit both for TVF&R and Newberg," Ulven said, adding that there was no opposition to the annexations when the issue came before the TVF&R board on a number of occasions.

Phillip Bransford, a communications officer for Washington County, said the county board of director's hands were basically tied on the issue. Although state law appears to contradict itself on annexations, it clearly requires that the county hold an election if a petition is produced challenging the annexations.

"Clearly at least one election is required – among the voters in the areas to be annexed – in order for the process to continue," Bransford said in an email. "Everyone agrees that this step was taken last month when the voters in Newberg and Newberg Rural Fire passed measures approving TVF&R's annexations. In fact, the only additional step needed to complete the annexation would have been the passage of a resolution … by the Washington County Board of Commissioners."

But when the petitions were submitted, the Board of Commissioners had little choice but to honor them, he said.

"These petitions now require TVF&R to place a measure before their voters about whether these two annexations should occur," Bransford said.

Ultimately, Ulven hopes the positive aspects of the annexations will resonate with the voters.

"An important thing we are telling our constituents that reside with TVF&R's district is that having Newberg and having the rural join TVF&R does not increase the taxes of TVFR constituents," she said. "If anything it lowers it slightly because people living in Newberg and people living in Newberg rural are helping paying off the remainder of TVF&R's bonded debt."

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