The Spearfish City Council voted Monday to start the ball rolling on the annexation of an area north of town called Upper and Lower Valley.

Well, "north of town" isn't totally accurate. Technically, the area targeted for annexation is a peninsula of county land within the northern boundaries of Spearfish. Check out this map of Spearfish city limits and annexations over the past decade, from the city's 2012 Annexation Study of the Upper and Lower Valley:

Spearfish City Limits, annexations from 2000 to 2010, and 2012 annexation study area

(click to embiggen!)

That little hammerhead shape toward the northwest is the unincorporated Valley. The red, blue, and gold areas around it are recent additions to the Spearfish city limits. The area covered by Monday's annexation resolution is not the complete hammerhead, just the "claw" to the east of Evans Lane, the dilapidated, sidewalkless strip of asphalt running north from the BHSU campus to the Valley Corner gas station and Crow Peak Brewery on old Highway 14.

Evans Lane is one big reason the city would like to annex this territory. If the annexation happens, the city has promised to split with the county the cost of overhauling this road, a gesture appreciated by my bike-keester and by folks who want to develop more housing and business along that road.

Still, I have some reservation about the proposed annexation. The city studied annexation of the entire Valley, but it is proposing to start with annexation of just a small portion. This nibbling appears to be what Dylan Wilde, an attorney representing Valley residents, calls a "divide and conquer" approach. The annexation resolution can be put to a public vote of Spearfish residents and residents in the area proposed for annexation. Such referral requires signatures from 5% of the voters in city and proposed annexation area.

The population of the whole Valley hammerhead is about 1800. The population of Spearfish is about 10,500. Given that about two-thirds of Lawrence County's residents are registered voters, I'm going to speculate that the combined total registered voters in Spearfish and the annexation study area is 8200, 5% of which is 410. Riled up Valley residents could muster that many signatures just from their own ranks, referring total annexation to a public vote without any city residents' help.

But if the city annexes only a portion of the Valley at a time, it shuts a majority of Valley residents out of each partial Valley annexation decision. Nibbling annexation dilutes the Valley's petitioning and voting power. Heather Murschel reports that nearly all 75 of the residents affected by this annexation resolution oppose the move, but this small number cannot refer the annexation to a vote by themselves, and they will have less influence in an annexation referral vote.

A major argument made by the city for annexation is that Valley residents enjoy city services without paying for them. However, those non-city residents pay for the amenities they enjoy in town with the sales tax they pay at Safeway, Common Grounds, and Boomgars. Annexation will bring them police, road, and municipal utilities where they live, but they will pay $300 to $700 more in taxes to get those services. Maybe there is a firmer actuarial breakdown that shows sales tax alone doesn't really pay for the parks and patched potholes that out-of-towners enjoy when they come to town from far and near. But unless the city can show me Valley residents who grow all of their own food (actually, there may be a few... although they pay sales tax on the produce they sell at the Spearfish Farmers Market!) and buy nothing in Spearfish proper, Upper and Lower Valley folks can contend that they contribute a fair amount of tax dollars to the city.

I haven't seen petitions around town yet, but stay tuned! (Dang: Lawrence County doesn't have any interesting local candidate races on the November ballot; maybe we'll get an exciting annexation referendum!)