Citizen’s Club Forum on Annexation

Kudos to the Citizen’s Club of Springfield for an informative forum on the City of Springfield’s plans to annex unincorporated areas of less than 60 acres wholly surrounded by the City, so-called “donut holes”.

Moderated by Ward 9 Alderman Jim Donelan, forum speakers were City of Springfield Corporation Counsel Jim Zerkle, Ward 7 Alderman Joe McMenamin, Ward 10 Alderman Ralph Hanauer, and Carroll Sutton.

In addition to the concern that ICON previously expressed to the City Council about the cost of extending infrastructure to areas possibly lacking paved roads, sidewalks, sewers and curbs, concerns expressed by those in opposition included:

  • The number of calls from residents of these unincorporated areas outside of Springfield who are opposed to being forcibly annexed.
  • The “unfairness” to residents and businesses who have no choice in whether to be incorporated, the argument being that just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.
  • Increased taxes for residents and businesses.
  • Increased sales taxes for customers of businesses in newly incorporated areas.

Advantages expressed by those in favor included:

  • Increased tax revenue for the City of Springfield. If I understood correctly this was estimated to be between $500,000 to $1,500,000 per year additional from newly incorporated areas if all eligible areas were annexed.
  • Reduced costs for water, electricity and sewer on CWLP bills, which would offset increased taxes.
  • More efficient use of City resources, which in many cases are currently deployed to unincorporated areas due to the difficulty in ascertaining exactly where boundaries are. Examples: a snowplow continues to plow the road in front of an unincorporated property instead of leaving an unplowed stretch and that the closest police car often responds in emergencies, in some cases City police respond in unincorporated areas and in other cases County Sheriff responds inside the City.
  • In areas wholly surrounded by the City, owners of unincorporated properties enjoy access via City-owned and maintained roads, sidewalks, sewers, and streetlights requiring police and other services.
  • Perhaps the most pertinent fact from ICON’s perspective (besides the possibility of resources being spread thinner) is that, in situations where unincorporated areas have experienced “inner city” issues with problem landlords, crime, problem tenants, and the resulting decreased property values, Sangamon County service providers currently do not have a keen understanding of the issues that neighborhood leaders have patiently cultivated in our City providers, may not be accustomed to working with neighborhood leaders, and cannot offer resources such as Springfield’s problem property ordinance that could help address such problems. As a result, Springfield residents and neighborhoods near unincorporated properties may suffer reduced property values with little recourse. One example given by Alderman McMenamin was a single unincorporated property resident who set off fireworks outside of Springfield’s set hours, frequently disturbing neighbors.

Comments by audience members worth noting included:

  • A suggestion to provide a cost-benefit analysis to the public and affected residents and businesses to better explain the reasons the City is interested in incorporation.
  • An observation that Aldermen elected by City of Springfield residents should focus on serving those who elected them instead of residents outside of Springfield.

Thanks to the Citizen’s Club for an informative forum that expanded my understanding of this issue.  I look forward to taking information from the forum back to the ICON Steering Committee and members.