Eagle County annexation idea for midvalley needs more info before ballot decision, Pitkin County says

There is a group in the valley that would like to put to a vote the annexation of the area of Eagle County in the Roaring Fork Valley to become part of Pitkin County.
Aspen Times file photo

Pitkin County commissioners want a lot more information about the impacts of annexing the Eagle County portion of the Roaring Fork Valley before they refer the question to voters in November.

That was the word Tuesday after a group of annexation supporters asked the county board to put the annexation idea on this year’s general election ballot and allow voters to decide if they want to make the change.

“We’re not asking you to support this,” said Tim Whitsitt, a midvalley resident and member of the pro-annexation group, Our Valley Our Voice. “We’re asking you to give us a vote. Let your people decide.”

While Commissioners Greg Poschman and Steve Child were open to the annexation idea, board Chairwoman Patti Clapper was hesitant. Numerous questions about the idea must be answered before anything should move forward, including vagaries about the annexation process, the exact financial implications of such a move and how many midvalley residents actually support the idea, she said.

Clapper also said she’d like to see how Eagle County commissioners react to the idea of putting the issue on the general election ballot, as well as having more discussion from two members of the Pitkin County board, Commissioners George Newman and Rachel Richards, who were out of town Tuesday. Richards and Newman were skeptical of the idea during a discussion last month.

“There’s a lot of questions,” Clapper said.

The only Colorado law that addresses county annexation was written in 1887 and requires a petition on the subject to be signed by 50 percent of the “taxpaying electors” who live in the affected area. It is unclear exactly what that means, and members of Our Valley Our Voice believe those requirements are “unreasonable,” according to a memo from Ken Ransford, a member of the group.

But the group believes commissioners in each affected county have the power to simply refer the issue to the ballot, which bypasses the antiquated statutory requirements, Whitsitt said.

That course of action, however, could lead to legal challenges based on process, said Laura Makar, assistant Pitkin County attorney.

“No portion of this process is completely clear,” Makar said.

Clapper said she encouraged Ransford earlier this year to begin collecting the requisite number of signatures for the petition, which would require Eagle and Pitkin counties to put the issue on the ballot.

“I have heard from a lot of people who are adamant that they don’t want to be part of Pitkin County,” Clapper said. “If a majority of people down there want to join Pitkin County, that would go a long way for me.”

Poschman said he’d like to stop “kicking the can down the road” on annexation, but that a much more detailed financial analysis of the annexation costs needs to be produced before he would move it forward.

“It would be great to have a more thorough economic study,” he said.

If Pitkin County annexed the Roaring Fork Valley portion of Eagle County, it would generate about $3.69 million in annual revenue but require $9.98 million in operating expenses and debt service, according to a Pitkin County staff analysis. It would increase Pitkin County’s population by 47 percent.

Child said he could envision many more services and benefits available in the midvalley area to residents of far-flung Pitkin County like the Crystal River Valley and the Fryingpan River Valley. However, he allowed that adding more than $6 million to Pitkin County’s budget could make annexation hard to swallow for many voters.

Our Valley Our Voice maintains that Eagle County’s pro-growth stance and lack of an appetite for how its residents in the Roaring Fork Valley feel is driving their annexation push. In addition, the midvalley is far more socially connected to Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley than to the Eagle County government, they say.

Raul Gawrys, a member of the group, told commissioners he’s served on Eagle County boards in an effort to be heard.

“They don’t listen to us,” he said. “They only listen to their staff. They design based on on-and-off ramps. We need a voice.”

The group has not yet had a chance to be included on an Eagle County commissioner agenda, Whitsitt said.