Council approves resolution for annexation despite opposition
TORRINGTON – The Torrington City Council convened for their second regular meeting of July Tuesday night. Mayor Randy Adams, Councilmembers Dennis Kelly, Ted Kinney, Richard Patterson and Kate Steinbock were present for the meeting.
A petition for annexation was presented to the council by James Eddington, attorney for the City of Torrington, after the matter was tabled in April due to inadequate notice being made to interested parties.
The property in question is located at 1501 East 20th Avenue. Eddington told the council that he, Chief of Police Matt Johnson and other municipal staff were working to clean up several “islands” along the city’s jurisdictional boundaries.
As a result of working on the matter, the group opined it would be in the best interest of the city to annex the property into the Torrington city limits.
“We initiated this some time ago and there was some question, so we tabled it, if you will, and we are ready to proceed again,” Eddington explained. “At the end of the public hearing, we will ask this council to make a specific finding that this property meets those conditions.”
Upon referral by Eddington, Police Chief Johnson spoke on the safety and welfare issues surrounding the proposal for annexation.
“It truly is a benefit for us, from the standpoint of having small enclaves of essentially separate jurisdiction that’s within the boundaries of where we normally work and respond to calls for service,” Johnson explained. “There are other elements of extraterritorial jurisdiction we can rly on but having that annexation in place is the most rock-solid way for us to know exactly what our foundation is for taking legal action responding to calls for service, trying to help for emergencies.”
City Engineer Jeff Harkins spoke further about the matter.
“Basically, this is just an island of unincorporated county that’s within the city boundaries, surrounded pretty much on all sides,” Harkins explained. “I think it’s 80-some percent surrounded by the City of Torrington. Basically, the city provides all the infrastructure, the water, sewer, fire hydrants for fire protection, sanitation, in regards to waste disposal, and electricity for the area. I think this property is served by some of those already, but not necessary all the utilities, but all the utilities are available.”
“It only makes sense that these islands be annexed; police jurisdiction is a biggie,” Eddington explained. “We’ve had a few cases where that issue has come up and so, we think that is for everybody’s safety; citizens, neighbors and certainly the police department itself.”
The homeowners, Kirk and Shelly Rutt, along with their attorney, Alyssa Coulson, contested the annexation.
“When Mr. Eddington went through the requirements of 15-1-402, he indicated that the landowner, who are the Rutts, were properly served, which we agree,” Coulson explained. “However, we do not agree with the fact that the extended definition of landowners were not served. That half a mile radius of landowners did not get served with the notice that this annexation was coming about. That notice required, this 402 requirement, along with a public notice to be served upon them as well.”
Coulson explained the annexation which had occurred in 2010 had the wrong property description listed in the annexation. Coulson alleged this had been brought to Eddington’s attention.
“This property description has a completely different property than what was initially petitioned,” Coulson explained. “And it’s what is shown and is being represented as city property…Had the proper notices been complied with back in 2010, the landowners that neighbor the annexation property would have known that this would come out. They could have double-checked to see whose property that is and how it would affect their property interest.”
“Not only do we have an incorrect annexation from 2010, we’re trying to use that incorrect annexation in this current annexation on the Rutts’ property,” Coulson said. “That is one major issue I do see with this current annexation application being brought forth to you guys today.”
Another alleged issue presented by Coulson was concern over the intent behind the application for annexation.
“The annexation of an area is for the protection of the health, safety and welfare of the persons residing in the area and in the city and town,” Coulson explained. “Not for the protection of the city, not for the protection of the town, protection for the people in the area and in the city as a whole…We’re not looking at a property owner versus the city and who would be benefitted more from an annexation. We are looking at the property owner and all of the property owners within the city and how bringing in another property would potentially harm the city and the current residents or it could benefit both. That’s what I’m asking the council to look at and consider here.”
Coulson testified the Rutts are currently utilizing their own water and sewer system.
“Later in this meeting, there is a request for a grant for over $10 million to improve the sewer system and the water system here,” Coulson said. “So, we are asking for $10 million that we are not sure the city may get, but we want to keep adding people onto the system itself. I don’t see how that’s going to benefit the city as a whole and the community as a whole.”
Coulson purported the Rutts would be losing property interest and property rights with being annexed into the city.
During the public hearing, Adams asked if anyone would like to speak in favor of the annexation. Nobody spoke in favor, but several people who were opposed to the annexation chose to speak.
“My husband, Kirk Rutt, and I own the property at 1501 East 20th Avenue. We also own Rutt Commercial Properties, Wagon Rutt Firearms and Wagon’s West Realty, also located at 1501 East 20th Avenue,” Shelly Rutt said. “I’ve been a realtor in the community for over 26 years and in those many years of real estate work I have been contracted to do many comparative market analysis and broker price opinions for banks, asset companies, mortgage companies and attorneys…our property value will be adversely affected if annexed and zoning regulations implemented. At its heart, this comes down to a statute that has not been enforced in decades and is still not enforced in other municipalities...we are fighting to preserve our way of life. Forcing annexation is not the answer to financial stability.”
Kirk Rutt spoke with the council about his views on the matter.
“My family has owned our home since late 1967,” he said. “As the town grew east, there was concern of being swallowed up by the city…we do not want to be annexed. I was asked that in a previous meeting. We are self-sufficient with our own well with county and DEQ approved septic systems. We do receive electricity from the city, which we pay for, because there are no other options…we do not want to be annexed. I want to quote Mayor Adams in a January council meeting that was in the paper Jan. 5 of 2022. He was quoted as saying, ‘We have a policy that we don’t annex areas that resist or do not want to be annexed,’ Torrington Mayor Randy Adams said.”
The Rutts’ neighbor, Brian Collar, spoke out against the annexation as well.
“I am totally opposed of it as well, of the annexation, because as Ms. Coulson stated, once they get in, the Rutts, I’m next; no way around it,” Collar said. “I just don’t feel it is fair that we can create the islands even though there is a state statute that states that island cannot be created, but we are creating those islands to be annexed, and I just don’t agree with that.”
Eddington rebutted the opposition to the annexation and asked the council to consider the resolution for annexation of the property.
“We would defer to the governing body to consider the findings under 402 and the resolution,” Eddington said.
“To me, the annexation process sounds like you’re taking personal property away from somebody that owns the property,” Councilmember Kelly said. “And it’s costing them $350 a month that they’re not spending now for utilities…it just doesn’t seem right that the legislature would write a statute that says they can take property at will. I understand their premise behind it; I just don’t agree with it.”
“This is not a taking,” Councilmember Patterson noted. “That’s a mischaracterization. A taking is an illegal event. This is not a taking, but an action here could lower the property value; I don’t dispute that at all…we are not creating a new island, what we are doing is we are making an island smaller.”
According to Eddington, the Rutts would not be subjected to any restrictions regarding operations on their grounds as there is a statute which would “grandfather” their operations to continue.
After discussion, Mayor Adams called for a vote on the resolution. The resolution was approved with Councilmembers Ted Kinney, Richard Patterson and Kate Steinbock voting in favor of the annexation. Councilmember Dennis Kelly abstained from the vote due to his ownership of a property in the county which is adjacent to the city’s jurisdictional boundary.
After the approval of the resolution, Eddington said he would be presenting an ordinance for first reading at the next council meeting regarding the proposed annexation of the Rutts’ property.
Also occurring at the meeting, the council approved six ordinance on their second reading; one ordinance pertaining to the repealing of an existing ordinance governing the carrying of concealed weapons and switchblade knives, one ordinance revision regarding amendments to existing penalties and jailable offense, one pertaining to an ordinance governing the possession of controlled substances, two ordinances governing annexation of properties at the airport and one ordinance relating to the ordinal recognition of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a city-recognized holiday.
Two catering permits were approved by the council, one for Julia and Charlie Harshberger for the grand opening of the Blue Bird Boutique in downtown Torrington, and the other for Jan Harvey of BZ Hospitality for an Eastern Wyoming College meet and greet with the new EWC president.
The council voted to reject the bid of a public works facility garage addition due to the project being too costly for the city. They then approved four resolutions permitting the town to apply for grants through the Wyoming State Loan and Investment Board for water and sewer projects throughout the city.
Harkins informed the council there was a new Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood map presented to the city that had caused concern for some residents. Harkins said there was rumor the City of Torrington had received grant money from FEMA for the flood map project. Harkins said this information is false, adding the city was under the same demands as al others and they did not get money for the project.
The next meeting of the Torrington City Council will commence in Jirdon Park on Aug. 2 as part of the National Night Out event hosted by local emergency response and municipal service agencies. The meeting will take place at the park and the event begins at 6 p.m.