Former mayors of Washington are expressing support for advancing an annexation plan to present to voters.
Mayor Sandy Lucy recently invited past mayors — Dick Stratman, Walt Larson, Bernie Hillermann and Dick Hirschl — to a meeting to discuss the more than yearlong effort to develop a plan to grow the city to the south, east and west and to solicit their ideas and support.
The Missourian reached three of the mayors and asked them to comment on the meeting and annexation efforts in general. Hirschl could not be reached for comment.
The three former mayors said the general consensus coming out of the meeting was unified support for pursuing some type of plan and letting the voters approve or reject it.
“It was a really good meeting,” Hillermann told The Missourian. “The consensus was that we should move forward.
“I’m a strong supporter of annexation. We’ve been working on it for years,” Hillermann remarked.
During his term as mayor in the mid-1990s, the city council put forward an annexation proposal that was much larger than the current one and it drew fierce opposition before the council dropped it.
Stratman was on the council when that plan, to annex over 4,000 acres of adjacent land, was developed. He said while he led the move to reject it as “too ambitious,” he is a strong supporter of a “reasonable” plan to take in certain areas to ensure orderly growth of the city.
He specifically points to the so-called Pottery Road “bowl” area to the south. “That area really impacts the city,” Stratman said. It is the beginning of the Busch Creek watershed which has a big effect on downstream property within the city.
That area was in the original plan proposed but it was cut.
Larson was a council member when the last annexation proposal was put forth and dropped.
He acknowledged that the city tried to annex too much land under that plan.
“Looking back, I believe we should’ve taken it in in smaller steps,” Larson said.
“That’s what we should do now,” he remarked, noting that it may be best to annex in phases over the next few years, “so we can afford extending services” to new areas.
“I think all the former mayors feel we need to go ahead for different reasons,” Larson commented about annexation.
“I feel we need to do it to protect the city,” he said.
Larson said people want to build new subdivisions close to the existing city limits. However, if they don’t have city services, there can by problems from things like inefficient septic systems.
“I don’t blame the people wanting to live there (adjacent but outside the city). However, “they’re getting the benefit of city services, but they’re not sharing in the cost. That’s not fair to our citizens.”
That sentiment was echoed by Stratman who noted that the people who live just outside the city “really live in Washington.”
He said they use the city’s facilities, like the parks and library and receive the benefits of superior fire protection, “but they don’t want to help pay for the services.”
The majority of the revenue that goes to the Washington Special Road District to maintain only a few roads just outside the city limits is paid by the citizens of Washington, Stratman stated. But they don’t receive anything in return, he noted.
Both Stratman and Hillermann were critical of the council’s decision late last year to kill the annexation plan developed by the planning and zoning commission. The council later agreed to revive the plan and hold several workshops before making a final decision.
“The council was way too quick to turn it (the plan) down and return to voluntary annexation only,” Hillermann said. “Voluntary annexation doesn’t work. It’s way too expensive. The city has always accepted voluntary annexation requests.”
“It was a big disappointment when the council killed the annexation plan,” Stratman remarked.
“They slapped them (planning and zoning commission members) in the face,” he noted. “They slapped everyone who lives in the city.”
Do the Right Thing
He praised the planning and zoning board members for their work. They are “apolitical” and their decisions are based on what they believe is right for the city, not for individuals.
“You should always do the right thing,” Stratman said of elected and appointed officials, “not what special interests, or your buddies, want.
“The tradition of Washington always has been that the civic leaders put the city’s interest ahead of their own, or their buddies,” Stratman said.
“I wish the people who live in the Washington community would put the city’s interest first,” he commented.
“It’s important to grow the city,” Stratman said. “The people in the area should be for it.”
Hillermann said the council should hold meetings with property owners in the affected areas so they fully understand the costs and benefits and get all their concerns answered.
“There’s a lot of confusion out there right now,” he said.