Rutts contest proposed annexation

Logan Dailey/Torrington Telegram The Rutt’s family businesses and home were petitioned for annexation into the city of Torrington, but after the last city council meeting, it is questionable whether the council will proceed.

Councilmembers silent for motion on second reading

TORRINGTON – In mid-April of 2022, James Eddington, attorney for the City of Torrington, presented a petition to the Torrington City Council for annexing property belonging to Shelly and Kirk Rutt located at 1501 East 20th Avenue into the corporate limits of the City of Torrington.

The property is currently within the corporate limits of Goshen County, but the city alleges the property is bordered by greater than 75% of the City of Torrington. Eddington told the council in a mid-July meeting the property was bordered by greater than 80% of the City of Torrington.

Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 15-1-402 (Lexis Advance through 2021 General Session of the Wyoming Legislature. Subject to revisions by LSO) declares, “(a) Before any territory is eligible for annexation, the governing body of any city or town at a hearing as provided in W.S. 15-1-405 shall find that:

(i) An annexation of the area is for the protection of the health, safety and welfare of the persons residing in the area and in the city or town;

(ii) The urban development of the area sought to be annexed would constitute a natural, geographical, economical and social part of the annexing city or town;

(iii) The area sought to be annexed is a logical and feasible addition to the annexing city or town and the extension of basic and other services customarily available to residents of the city or town shall, within reason, be available to the area proposed to be annexed;

(iv) The area sought to be annexed is contiguous with or adjacent to the annexing city or town, or the area meets the requirements of W.S. 15-1-407;

(v) If the city or town does not own or operate its own electric utility, its governing body is prepared to issue one (1) or more franchises as necessary to serve the annexed area pursuant to W.S. 15-1-410; and

(vi) The annexing city or town, not less than twenty (20) business days prior to the public hearing required by W.S. 15-1-405(a), has sent by certified mail to all landowners and affected public utilities within the territory a summary of the proposed annexation report as required under subsection (c) of this section and notice of the time, date and location of the public hearing required by W.S. 15-1-405(a).

If all conditions stipulated in W.S. 15-1-402 are met, then W.S. 15-1-406 takes effect.

Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 15-1-406 (Lexis Advance through 2021 General Session of the Wyoming Legislature. Subject to revisions by LSO) states, “If after the hearing the governing body finds that the conditions required by W.S. 15-1-402 exist and that the required procedures have been met, it shall by ordinance annex the territory. Upon completion of annexation procedures, the clerk of the annexing municipality shall file with the county clerk a map of the area to be annexed and a copy of the ordinance approved by the governing body of the annexing municipality.

If after the hearing the governing body finds that the conditions required by W.S. 15-1-402 exist and that the required procedures have been met, it shall by ordinance annex the territory. Upon completion of annexation procedures, the clerk of the annexing municipality shall file with the county clerk a map of the area to be annexed and a copy of the ordinance approved by the governing body of the annexing municipality.

(b) If more than fifty percent (50%) of the landowners, or if a landowner or landowners owning more than fifty percent (50%) of the area to be annexed file written objections with the clerk of the annexing municipality within twenty (20) business days after the hearing under W.S. 15-1-405(a) no further action under W.S. 15-1-404 may be taken on any area within the proposed annexation within two (2) years.

(c) If seventy-five percent (75%) or more of the perimeter of the area to be annexed is contiguous to the corporate limits of the annexing city or town, the provisions of subsection (b) of this section do not apply.

Eddington told the council that all the necessary requirements had been met and recommended annexing the property into the City of Torrington.

The Rutts, with their attorney, Alyssa Coulson, contested the annexation before the council. However, Eddington noted a “new procedure” for annexation during the April meeting.

“It’s kind of a new procedure; it’s one that we haven’t done while I’ve been here,” Eddington said, according to a previous Telegram article. “All annexations have been by consent by people wanting to come in.” 

Eddington told the council they were trying to eradicate “islands” of property that were within the corporate limits of Goshen County but were mostly surrounded by the City of Torrington

Eddington cited jurisdictional issues between the county and city as the primary reason for the proposed annexations.

In the July meeting, Eddington indicated a major criminal drug case had been lost due to these issues of jurisdiction. He said the annexations would eliminate issues stemming from jurisdictional boundaries for local emergency first responders.

“It only makes sense that these islands be annexed; police jurisdiction is a biggie,” Eddington explained, according to a previous Telegram article. “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.”

Torrington Police Chief Matt Johnson spoke on the matter during the July council meeting.

“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 rely 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.”

The “elements of extraterritorial jurisdiction” Johnson referred to is a memorandum of understanding established between the Torrington Police Department and the Goshen County Sheriff’s Office. Under the terms of an MOU, officers can respond to calls outside their jurisdiction while maintaining the ability to enforce laws of the State of Wyoming, so long as certain conditions are met, and approval is granted by the agency with the actual legal authority for that particular location.

During an interview with Torrington Mayor Randy Adams, he stated, “what we we’re doing is protecting the other 6,700 citizens that live in the city of Torrington from what might happen in an area that’s not annexed.

“All those people who live in Torrington, they are getting protection from those kinds of things: water, sewer, electrical, streets, fire, police protection; those all come along with the agreement they make with the City of Torrington,” Adams said. “In regard to why, when we provide services to the residents of the city, there’s a very specific understanding of what those services are. For example, water, we know exactly what the quality of our water is that we provide for our citizens. We are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, Wyoming Water Development Commission and all those entities, plus our own strict standards and guidelines, so we know exactly what we are putting out there. We run through reverse osmosis; we test it weekly.”

Adams expressed concern about the management of the Rutts’ septic system and water system. Though he conceded he didn’t know whether their systems were of issue, he expressed the importance of continuing maintenance, inspection and repair on the systems.

According to Adams, when water and sewage systems are managed by the City of Torrington, they enforce strict guidelines on backflow protection and preventing contaminants from entering the water and sewage systems.

Though Adams noted concerns over the water and sewage systems, the Rutts maintain the system is in great condition and is only several years old with safe, compliant water test ratings.

One of the main concerns the Rutts and Coulson share is the city failed to provide any maps during the April meeting.

According to a previous Telegram article, “Councilman Rick Patterson said proper service should be done first before moving forward and motioned to table the action.”

The council tabled the petition for annexation upon proper service.

After the April meeting, the Rutts were served by Torrington Police Officers and by certified mail with new paperwork. The new paperwork included maps of the proposed annexation and the documentation the city used to establish their indicated need for annexation.

However, the Rutts and Coulson contested the new packet of information as well due to the fact the information presented by the City of Torrington proposing the annexation indicates an incorrect property description. The property description listed on Ordinance No. 1097 from 2010 lists the property to be annexed into the corporate limits of the City of Torrington, at that time, as the property which is adjacent to the Rutts’ property. The property described in the annexation from 2010 is that of Brian Collar’s.

According to the plat maps maintained by the Goshen County Assessor’s Office, Brian Collar’s property and the property to the west of Collar’s are both in the county, along with Kirk and Shelly’s property to the south. The “Rutt Subdivision” consists of two lots north of the Rutt’s residence and business and west of both Brian Collar’s and the property adjacent to the west owned by the Rod and Patsy Rutt Trust.

With the contested information, the Rutts and Coulson appeared again before the Torrington City Council on July 27.

From a previous article in the Telegram, “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.’”

Despite the opposition, the council approved the petition.

The first reading of the new ordinance was read on Aug. 2 at the Torrington City Council meeting held during National Night Out at Jirdon Park.

The council heard more input from Coulson on the matter.

From a previous Telegram article, “We do still have concerns in regard to moving forward on this annexation,” Coulson said. “In regard to the 2010 annexation as not being a valid annexation as to the plots that were provided and filed with the county. We also have concerns in regard to having this meeting today.”

Adding to Coulson’s input, Dave Cronk, chairman of the City of Torrington’s Planning Commission, informed the council the planning commission had not been involved with any of the annexation or subdivision proposals heard by the council.

He expressed concern at the council’s willingness to abide by municipal code in that Cronk alleged the planning commission was to go before the planning commission before the council.

Cronk cited Torrington, Wyo. Municipal Code 2 §2.20.040(B), which states “The committee will review, comment on and recommend to the council approval, disapproval or modification of subdivisions plats, annexations and the conditions attached thereto, rezoning applications, zoning, variances and exemptions, consistent with the state statute and this Code.”

“Under the present administration, not one annexation or subdivision has been brought through the planning board,” Cronk said during the Aug. 2 meeting, according to the Telegram.

Shelly Rutt told the Telegram she was a member of the planning commission and is no longer a member but was never told she was no longer on the commission.

“The last email I got from Dennis Estes was February of (20)21,” Shelly said. “The municipal code states, the mayor, upon approval of the council, has the power to appoint and remove (commission members) …never got a letter or an email or nothing from the mayor or the council about my position.”

According to Shelly, in a sentence at the end of email communications about their business’ sign off East 20th Avenue, Estes told Shelly the matter would likely bring up the discussion of annexation into city limits. She never heard from Estes on the matter again until she was informed of the petition for annexation to be presented to the council earlier in the year.

The Rutts, Suzanne Keller, Brian Collar and others have spoken before the council about the matter, but Shelly said she feels as though it doesn’t matter, and they aren’t listening.

Councilman Patterson assured Shelly he was listening and shared her concerns during the next meeting when he said, “I don’t know of another event in recent times that’s caused as much stress and strain and loss of sleep for me, personally. There’s a reason that we annex and that we zone. And, when we have people packed in close proximity like we do in a community, in a town, it has to do with safety; it has to do with health, with that many people together, there has to be rules, there has to be standards that everyone has to follow…In my mind, it would be perfectly legal for us to proceed with this, but on the other hand, there are some questions that have come up and I think some legitimate ones about procedure. I think we can do it, but the question for me is should we do it.”

Patterson said there are areas around Torrington that need some attention but also noted, “it’s unfortunate this particular portion of land is not really one of the big problems.”

“What I would like to do, is hit the pause button,” Patterson said. “I don’t want to vote for it, and I don’t want to vote against it. The position I will take tonight is I will neither make a motion nor second a motion to advance it.”

Chairman Pro Tempore Ted Kinney called the question for the second reading of the proposed annexation during the Aug. 16 meeting. Patterson did as he said and did not motion for the passage of the ordinance on the second reading. The remainder of the council members remained silent, as well, following suit with Patterson.

With the lack of a motion, Kinney asked Eddington for advice on the matter. Eddington told Kinney the matter would die for lack of a motion, but the matter would be brought to the council again at the next council meeting.

The next meeting will be Sept. 6 at 7 p.m. at Torrington City Hall. As of press time, the City of Torrington has not yet released an agenda for the upcoming meeting. To view agendas, minutes and recordings of Torrington City Council meetings, visit https://torringtonwy.gov/AgendaCenter/City-Council-2.

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