Kansas annexation statutes require substantive test for “reasonableness,” but annexation in question met the test

by Gary Taylor

Stueckemann and Cedar Lake Association v. City of Basehor
Kansas Supreme Court, April 24, 2015

In 2008 the city of Basehor initiated the unilateral annexation of the Estates – a platted residential subdivision of approximately 115 acres adjacent to the city and accessible by city streets.  The Estates has been served by city sewer under a contract since 2004.  Residents of the Estates raised several issues to contest the annexation.

Improper notice.  The written legal description in the notice provided to parties erroneously included a parcel that was correctly excluded from the map.  The map incorrectly excluded a different parcel that was correctly included in the resolutions and published area sketch.  The Stueckemanns argued that these errors meant that the city failed to meet the statutory notice obligations found in Kansas Statutes.  The Supreme Court agreed with both lower courts that the city met the obligation of “substantial compliance” as the statutes have been interpreted to require in previous court cases.  “Because even with the initial identification errors and inconsistencies acknowledged by the city, the Stueckemanns seemed to be able to determine what area the city sought to annex as they actually notified the city council of the specific discrepancies….”

Plan for extending municipal services.  The city was required by state law to develop a plan for the extension of municipal services to the annexed land.  The Stueckmanns attacked the plan’s provisions for police services and for street and infrastructure maintenance, asserting the plan contained insufficient detail about Leavenworth County’s current services and how the city would proceed to provide its own services post-annexation.  As with the notice requirements, courts review annexation service plans for “substantial compliance” with state law.  The purpose of the plan is “to inform the affected landowners of the municipality’s decision, what benefits they will receive, and what costs they will incur,” so that affected landowners “may attempt to persuade the city that annexation would not be in the best interest of either party.”  In previous cases the Supreme Court had determined that a “bona fide plan” meets the requirement for substantial compliance, and that a “bona fide plan” is one that is prepared and submitted by the city in accordance with the statute in good faith and with honest intentions on the part of the city to implement the plan as submitted.”  In the present case the court could not conclude that the city’s plan was not being submitted in good faith.  The plan provided estimates of the cost and cost impact of providing police protection and extending street infrastructure and maintenance, states the means by which the Estates received such services prior to the annexation, and demonstrates how the city will finance the extension of services.  A specific timetable is not required, nor would it be feasible considering the facts of the case.

Annexation is unreasonable.  The requirement in state law that an annexation be “reasonable” was interpreted by the Kansas Supreme Court.  Prior to a 2005 statutory amendment, it was interpreted to simply mean that the annexation did not “violate constitutional protections or statutory authority….Courts do not pass on the wisdom, necessity, or advisability of legislative acts delegated to municipalities.”  Under the 2005 amendments, however, the court determined that “reasonableness” now means that a landowner may challenge an annexation on substantive grounds.  Despite this new standard, an annexation is not per se unreasonable when the value of new services does not exceed the new taxes imposed.  A court reviewing a city’s unilateral annexation may consider the inherent benefits residents enjoy by virtue of their proximity to the city.  Under the facts of the case, the city’s annexation met the statutory test for reasonableness.

Judgment for the city.

 

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