Bill to restrict cities' annexation power passes both houses of the Legislature

TOPEKA — Both houses of the Legislature today overwhelmingly passed a bill to restrict the way that cities add to their territory, despite some concerns that the proposed new rules could slow growth and economic development.

By votes of 105-17 and 31-6, the House and Senate passed Senate Bill 150, which tightens the rules for cities that want to annex property from unincorporated areas. It will now go to Gov. Sam Brownback’s desk.

The bill would require a vote of affected property owners when a city and county approve an annexation of more than 40 acres. The County Commission would need a two-thirds vote to go forward, rather than the simple majority now required.

Annexations of less than 40 acres would not require a public vote, but the commission approval would still require a two-thirds supermajority.

Cities would still be allowed to annex land without a county commission vote in some circumstances.

The bill also shortens the time residents have to wait to try to undo an annexation if they feel the city they’re added to is not providing adequate public services.

At present, the County Commission is required to hold a hearing five years after an annexation to determine whether the city that took the land is adequately providing services to residents. SB 150 shortens that to three years.

In cases where the county determines a city is not providing adequate services, the city now has two years to correct the problem before an annexation can be revoked. SB 150 shortens that to 18 months.

Sedgwick County has experienced numerous annexation fights in recent years, especially among the smaller cities north of Wichita.

In 2008 and 2009, former county Commissioner Kelly Parks was part of a movement to form a new city called “West Valley,” in an effort to stop Valley Center from annexing neighborhoods of rural residents who didn’t want to be part of that city.

In 2007, the County Commission ruled that Park City had failed to provide adequate services to annexed residents of neighborhoods just east and southeast of Wichita Greyhound Park.

Rep. Steve Huebert, R-Valley Center, a supporter of SB 150, called it “a good compromise” between representatives of property owners and municipal governments.

He said extensive negotiations had resulted in legislation that put more conditions on annexation, but still gained the support of the Kansas League of Municipalities.

“We worked hard,” Huebert said. “This is one of the most significant changes in annexation law in recent years.”

Residents of Johnson County, including professional golfer Tom Watson, have been trying to get the Legislature to pass annexation restrictions for several years after Overland Park annexed about 8 square miles in 2008.

Johnson County Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, argued against the bill on the Senate floor.

“It will make annexation under certain circumstances either very difficult or impossible,” he said. “That’s exactly what this bill is designed to do, is stifle development … If you think that development is important and creation of jobs is important, you’ll vote against this bill.”

Contributing: Brad Cooper of the Kansas City Star