City council

ANNEXATION: The City of Ashland’s plan to annex includes the areas outlined in red. Public hearings about the annexation plan were held at last Thursday’s council meeting. (Map provided by City of Ashland)

ASHLAND – The City of Ashland will extend its boundaries by annexing one large subdivision and several other parcels of land.

During a public hearing at last Thursday’s Ashland City Council meeting, the council heard testimony regarding the proposed annexation package.

The city council is planning to annex the Sabre Heights subdivision on Ashland’s west edge. This is a Sanitary Improvement District (SID) that was originally intended to become part of the city all along, said City Zoning Administrator Lenora Isom.

“They’re ready and financially it makes sense,” she said.

The other parcels planned for annexation are located around the city on all four sides. Jeff Ray with JEO Consulting Group, the city engineer, said they worked with the council to decide which properties would be annexed in a way that allows for an orderly growth to the city. All the properties are adjacent to other annexed areas and it is feasible for the city to add the land into their corporate limits.

Ray said they looked at other parcels, but decided it did not make sense now to annex them. However, that does not mean that annexation is not in the plans for those areas.

“There will be other areas we will continue to look at,” he said.

One of the reasons for annexing these areas now is to extend the city’s extraterrestrial jurisdiction (ETJ) for zoning, said Ray. A handout prepared by the city administrator explaining the reasons for the annexation said land use protection and oversight of future growth are the primary reasons.

Council Member Bruce Wischmann said the city wants to expand the ETJ to safeguard Ashland from encroaching cities like Gretna, which is poised to become a city of the first class, which will enlarge its ETJ to two miles. That would reach as far as some of the lake communities around Ashland, he said.

Growth will continue in the area as Lincoln and Omaha also expand, Wischmann said. Ashland’s location in the middle is prime.

“Unfortunately, we’re in that bubble where everybody wants to be in,” he said.

The annexation will bring additional revenue to the city’s coffers to support services like maintaining infrastructure and providing snow removal.

Currently, the area is located in the city’s one-mile jurisdiction for police protection and zoning, and those services will remain. However, law enforcement is provided primarily by the Saunders County Sheriff’s Department. Annexation will allow the Ashland Police Department to take over law enforcement duties.

The annexation also allows the residents of Sabre Heights and all of the other annexed properties to serve on the city council, city boards and commissions.

A handful of citizens in the areas planned for annexation spoke against the plan. Alex Fangman, whose parents, Lorene and Scott Fangman, live on a five-acre lot located in one of the parcels, voiced their concerns about how annexation would affect the gravel roads, if their taxes would increase and how it would affect the use of their land for recreational activities like target shooting and for use of guns to control the population of wildlife like coyotes.

“Unfortunately, when you have a property that’s that close to the city limits, eventually it’s going to happen to where you’re going to get annexed,” said Wischmann.

Council Member Paul Gossin said the Fangmans and other residents won’t see a lot of changes after annexation.

“I don’t think it will change your lifestyle,” he said.

Firearms are not allowed to be used in city limits. But the council discussed allowing conditional use permits for things like target shooting on these outer properties.

“That way we can monitor it on a conditional basis,” added Isom.

Mayor Rick Grauerholz said the city will hire a company to maintain the gravel roads in the annexed area in the same manner as they are being taken care of now.

“The plan is the do the same thing,” he said.

Taxes will go down for residents of Sabre Heights when it is annexed, but the other parcels around the city’s edges will not be so lucky.

“Nothing we’re going to tell you is good news…as far as taxes go,” said Wischmann.

The difference between the city tax rate and the county rate is about .66 cents per $100 of valuation, said Gossin.

Jack Smits, another resident in the proposed annexation area, said the tax increase would be “astronomical” to he and his wife, who are on fixed incomes.

Smits also questioned why the city would want to annex an area that’s in the flood plain.

“With my property you’re going to gain flood land,” he said. “I can’t see where you would gain.”

Gossin said the council spent a lot of time discussing which areas to annex at this time.

“We did not take this decision lightly,” he said.

Following the public hearing, the council passed the first reading of Ordinance 1171 to annex Sabre Heights and Ordinance 1172 to annex the other areas. There will be two more readings of the ordinance at future council meetings. The final reading is scheduled for Dec. 19. The annexation will go into effect Jan. 4.

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