STERLING – Annexation plans for one neighborhood moved ahead while another resolution was tabled after public hearings at Thursday’s Plan Commission session.
The first hearing was for the proposed annexation of 31 properties just outside the city, north of the Union Pacific railway. Most of that land is on West Third and West Fourth streets. Many of the owners were in attendance, and all were opposed to being brought into the city.
After much lively discussion, the commissioners voted to not send the west-end annexation resolution to the City Council for action. It was decided that in light of all the questions asked during the hearing, more information was needed. The Plan Commission will pick up the issue at a meeting planned for 7 p.m. Dec. 19 in council chambers.
City Manager Scott Shumard opened the hearing by laying out the city’s reasons for taking action now. Rising property taxes were a driver as the city struggles to keep up with rising pension costs and a long to-do list of costly infrastructure projects.
Another factor is a need for more land that can be used for commercial development.
“We are running out of space for business expansion and there is land the city has owned for decades at the corner of Route 2 and McCue Road that we want to use for a business park,” Shumard said.
The city would also like to bring more people into the city before the March 31 deadline for including boundary changes in the 2020 Census. Each person brought into the city limits brings an estimated $1,500 a year. In addition to property taxes, motor fuel tax and sales taxes are based on population.
The city says that annexation brings equity to receiving city services. For instance, city residents are paying about 3.24 times more than people living outside the city limits for fire protection services.
Many property owners had questions about utilities changes if brought into the city.
“Will the city help us with water and sewer if we need to connect? A lot of us are fearful because there are just a lot of things we don’t have information for,” said Renee Duncan, a longtime Fourth Street resident.
If annexed, residents could still use their well and septic systems and there would be no city sewer and water bill. If those systems need to be replaced, however, they would have to hook up to city services. The city would not help with the cost, saying that owners would have to pay for new wells and septic if they failed.
Some residents were concerned about possible changes in how their land could be used after being brought into the city.
“I bought property in the county to get away from some of the city regulations. If the zoning changes, that could lower the value of my property,” said Stan Szydelko, who owns commercial property in the area.
Dan Witmer was also concerned about usage changes on the 16 acres of land he owns, where rock crushing is done. They were told not to worry about zoning issues.
“Uses will be grandfathered in as long as you own the property,” City Attorney Tim Zollinger said. “The new owners could also be allowed to continue that use – the land can be rezoned.”
Perhaps the biggest concern was increases in property taxes. Many residents wanted to know what the broad percentage increase would be for residential and commercial properties. It was suggested they come in individually to get a number for their property because there are too many tax variables to consider.
The second hearing was for the first of several planned annexation areas in the Steelton Subdivision. Only six owners are affected in that resolution and no one spoke during the hearing. All of the Steelton property owners have signed preannexation agreements many years ago when they connected to city sewer services. That sewer buildout served as a petition for annexation of the contiguous parcels.
The commissioners unanimously voted to moved the Steelton annexation proposal to the council for action.
The Plan Commission will continue to address the west-end annexation proposal when it next meets at 7 p.m. Dec. 19 in the first-floor Council Chambers at City Hall, 212 Third Ave.
Go to sterling-il.gov or call City Hall at 815-632-6621 for an agenda or more information.