Cottonwood should have 8.5 square miles of U.S. Forest Service land officially within its boundaries before the end of September, but Clarkdale Mayor Doug Von Gausig isn’t happy about it.
Probably within the next two weeks, Qwest, owner of the only private property interest within the annexed area, a utility easement, should sign off on the move and a petition declaring the annexation should be filed with Yavapai County, according to Cottonwood City Manager Doug Bartosh.
After that, all that remains to complete the acquisition is a vote of the Cottonwood City Council, enacting an ordinance to make the annexation official, Bartosh said.
The 5-2 vote of the council Aug. 18 in favor of moving forward with annexation rather than an agreement with Clarkdale took some by surprise, especially Clarkdale Mayor Doug Von Gausig.
Roughly 25 hours prior to the Aug. 18 Cottonwood City Council meeting, an addendum was posted on the city’s Web site adding the annexation vote as an item.
According to Von Gausig, neither he nor other officials in Clarkdale were informed of the upcoming vote.
“Obviously when two communities have considered an intergovernmental agreement and one decides against it, a call or some other personal contact would be appreciated. The same would be true of the two parties to any negotiation,” Von Gausig said.
The IGA proposed by Clarkdale was intended to prevent either city from annexing the USFS land.
Bartosh said the city’s legal council advised against it.
“We did not feel as comfortable that an IGA was as binding as Clarkdale did,” Bartosh said.
“We did not feel comfortable with that approach. We have moved ahead with the annexation, but our council made their preference very clear [Tuesday, Aug. 25] asking and encouraging the USFS not to allow the land to be traded or developed,” he said.
Bartosh conceded the council’s resolution requesting USFS to keep the annexed land as open space and free from land trades has no binding effect on an agency of the federal government.
“Our hope is that by annexing this land we have even more influence over protecting it as pristine forest,” he said. “That has been our intention all along.”
“Clarkdale offered Cottonwood an ironclad, legally binding intergovernmental agreement that assured them we that would not and could not annex [the 8.5 square miles of USFS land],” Von Gausig said. “The large number of issues of common concern between our communities make close coordination, consideration and regional perspective absolutely essential,” he said.
“Each member of Cottonwood’s council stated repeatedly that their goal in annexation was open space preservation. This was stated by the entire council at a Cottonwood Council meeting when they first rolled out this plan, again by Vice Mayor Karen Pfeifer at an intergovernmental meeting in Camp Verde six weeks or so ago, then again at Friday’s joint council meeting,” Von Gausig said.
“Yet, they heard from the Forest Service that their annexation would instead actually increase the likelihood of that land being traded and developed. In fact, all evidence is that Cottonwood’s annexation will actually hasten development.”
“There is no proof that we have been shown where annexation has led to land being traded,” Bartosh said.
Cottonwood council member Darold Smith, who proposed a resolution approved Tuesday, Aug. 25, to keep the property as open space, defended the city’s actions.
“I don’t understand what the problem is,” Smith said. “We’re also going to annex the other 10 square miles right next to that property. With Cottonwood having control of that and the forest land we can try to control what’s going in there. I can’t say nothing will ever happen, but as far as this City Council is concerned it won’t be opened up for any speculation whatsoever.”
Mayor Diane Joens, Vice Mayor Karen Pfeifer and council members Darold Smith, Duane Kirby and Linda Norman voted Aug. 18 to annex the land while council members Tim Elinski and Terence Pratt voted against.
Despite Cottonwood’s actions, Clarkdale’s council voted to sign the intergovernmental agreement as an act of good faith
during a meeting Tuesday, Aug. 25.
State Trust land located along State Route 89A between Cornville Road and Page Springs Road, land Cottonwood would like to see developed, probably won’t be annexed for at least another year, Bartosh said.