Group hears concerns, questions about Freeland incorporation

It won’t be simple.

That’s the message backers of the incorporation effort in Freeland had for residents during town hall meetings to discuss the prospects of cityhood for the fastest-growing area on South Whidbey.

Although the ins and outs of becoming a city may be complicated by state law, sponsors put a positive spin on the idea for the 80 people who attended recent afternoon and evening workshops devoted to incorporation.

But without a sewer plan in place, incorporation is a pipe dream, at least for now.

Sponsored by the Vision 2025 committee, the meetings last Wednesday focused on the incorporation effort as well as the work being done by some of the other sub-committees.

“The main benefit of incorporation is that the residents will have control of their own destiny,” said Mike Dolan, chairman of the Vision 2025 committee. Dolan pressed the group with several rhetorical questions.

“How are we going to manage growth?”

“If we remain under the jurisdiction of Island County where the decisions for managing growth occur in Coupeville, will we have the community we want in 20 years?”

As for sewers, Dolan said, “they are the linchpin to Freeland becoming a city.”

The sewer plan has been adopted by Island County commissioners and the Freeland Water District. But a feasibility study must be conducted to determine actual costs of the sewer to business owners in town.

Property owners during the first phase of the project would initially bear the expense of constructing the treatment facility and the added infrastructure to serve Freeland’s business core. After the study is completed, property owners who make up 60 percent of the assessed valuation of the property served by sewers must approve the proposal.

In the meantime, the incorporation committee plans to hold more public meetings. Incorporation supporters will also meet with homeowners in nearby residential areas such as Mutiny Sands and Useless Bay Colony.

However, the proposed boundaries for the future city have not been determined.

“The boundaries are a work in progress,” said Chet Ross, boundary committee chairman.

Several people from Useless Bay Colony attended the meeting, including Earl Lawsen, president of the colony’s homeowners association.

One of Lawson’s concerns is hunting near Deer Lagoon.

If the colony was included in the city, Lawsen wondered whether the city could ban shooting within the city limits.

Ross assured the crowd that the city could set laws against shooting within its boundaries, and joked that the committee figured they would have a lock on 400 votes in favor of incorporation from Useless Bay Colony because of the ongoing controversy over hunting in Deer Lagoon.

Ross said it makes sense to include areas where significant development has occurred within Freeland city limits. That would give the city a tax base and include enough surrounding area that could be developed in the future.

Both Ross and Dolan said taxes would not increase for residents in the city.

However, the new city would have to contract with the county for law enforcement and road maintenance, and with the Fire District 3 for fire protection services.

The Island County assessor would continue to set property taxes, but the city would set its own millage rate to cover the operating and administrative costs of the new city.

Some at the meeting asked how Freeland would grow if it became a city, and if it could afford the services that citizens expect.

David Goodwin, a Freeland dentist, wondered whether incorporation would create more growth in Freeland.

And Linda Belyeu asked if Freeland’s tax base would be big enough to fund all of the services associated with a city.

Ross said preliminary figures indicate there is more than enough of a tax base to cover the costs of the city.

Although becoming a city would eventually mean urban-scale development, incorporation supporters stressed that becoming a city would mean Freeland could keep its rural feel.

Dolan assured the group that having control of planning at the local level would mean enforceable regulations to channel growth so that Freeland’s rural character would be maintained.

Dolan said protecting the rural nature of Freeland is one of the motivating factors for incorporation.

“Another major advantage of incorporation is tax money would be spent in Freeland, not countywide,” he said.

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