Commissioners urged to support White City vote

Residents of White City will have to wait until Wednesday before the Jackson County Board of Commissioners officially approves a petition that would allow them to vote on whether the rural community should become a city.

In a nearly three-hour hearing on Wednesday, Jackson County commissioners supported most of the petition to incorporate White City, but still needed time to discuss city boundary lines next week.

Residents worried the petition would be turned down because county officials said petitioners were missing documents required under state law.

Even Stan Alexander, leader of the community's incorporation efforts, didn't think the county would move the petition forward to voters in November. He was prepared to try again in the 2014 election.

More than two dozen White City residents attended the meeting to support incorporation.

"I want sidewalks, so I don't get hit by a car," Joyce Crockett, a White City resident for 17 years, told commissioners. "I want city water. I want street lights."

Other residents expressed similar opinions in favor of incorporation because it would improve the community's infrastructure, even if that means paying more property taxes.

If incorporated, the community would pay an extra $1.45 for every $1,000 of assessed property value. Those with a house assessed at $130,000 would pay $188.50 a year.

The quest to make the community live up to its name goes back to the 1960s, Alexander said. He has been involved in incorporation efforts for 15 years. In the past few years, organizers have failed to collect enough signatures and meet state requirements for paperwork for the petition to get on a ballot.

Missing requirements for paperwork nearly terminated the group's petition again Wednesday. The group collected enough signatures, but Teresa Campbell, senior assistant county counsel, said the group failed to turn in an affidavit.

Under state law, an affidavit is a written statement affirming Alexander spoke with 10 percent of residents on the community's boundaries who support incorporation.

Campbell also said the group's economic feasibility statement was insufficient because it did not provide adequate information about urban growth and density.

Former Jackson County Commissioner Sue Kupillas argued to commissioners that residents of White City should not be required to determine complex decisions about urban growth reserves. She cited cities in the state with professional staff that have struggled with these topics for years. Her testimony seemed to persuade commissioners.

Alexander turned in the affidavit to Campbell soon before Wednesday's meeting, which was too late, according to Campbell. However, Commissioner Skundrick considered the decades-long effort put forth by White City residents instead of focusing on what many residents called technicalities.

"Folks in White City have demonstrated that this is something they want," Skundrick said. "I would recommend that the petition moves forward."

The meeting highlighted what the group has struggled with for years: complex state law.

Alexander said getting all the right information has been the most difficult step in the process. That's why supporters hired attorney Ed Trompke to help them.

Trompke, who works for a Portland law firm, has years of experience with incorporation. He helped incorporate both La Pine and Damascus, which became cities in the mid-2000s.

Although Alexander said he couldn't find any written rules, the process for incorporation is outlined in chapter 221 of the Oregon Revised Statutes. But the law is difficult to decipher, even for attorneys.

"There's no clear way to do it (incorporate)," Trompke said during his testimony Wednesday. "It's messy."

Should the community with a population of 8,550 become a city, Alexander said many residents are already willing to volunteer as city staff.

The city would qualify for $1 million from the White City Urban Renewal District to build a city hall, Alexander said. The city would also qualify for grants to build libraries, parks, street lights and public transportation, Alexander said.

The commissioners will meet again on Wednesday at the Jackson County Courthouse to discuss city boundary lines. If commissioners approve the petition in its entirety, the next step for supporters is to persuade White City voters to pass the measure.

One resident, Kathrine Henry, doesn't think that will be a problem. She said most White City residents want the community to become a city.

"The name's White City," Henry said. "It's time to make it official."

Reach University of Oregon intern Josephine Woolington at 541-776-4368.

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