Yogi Berra makes me laugh and think. He said, “Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.” “When you arrive at a fork in the road, take it.” And, “a nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”

When I read in these pages, leaders and commentators urging the City of Auburn to “annex the unincorporated areas of North Auburn” in order to help pay for escalating public employee pensions, health care and workers’ compensation costs, I think of Yogi Berra’s quip, “it’s like déjà vu all over again.” Like the medieval alchemists who claimed they could use magic and pseudo science to turn lead into gold, seemingly easy and painless solutions to complex problems just keep getting recycled in the public policy arena. Let’s get back to reality.

Soon after arriving in town in 1999, I attended several of the public hearings conducted by the City of Auburn’s Annexation Committee as they were charged by the City Council to explore whether large scale annexations of county land into the city was feasible. In 1994, the city put on the ballot Measure H, which would have annexed 13.8 square miles with an estimated population of 12,250 into the city. While 56% of voters in the city modestly supported the measure, 81.7% of the voters in the county opposed it and Measure H was soundly defeated.

In their January 29, 2000 report “Annexation in the Greater Auburn Area,” the Annexation Committee noted that there would be intangible benefits of annexation for new city residents such as having five locally elected officials that care about their neighborhoods verse only one with the county. But many county residents thought that annexation would bring higher city taxes, re-zoning of their land to raise revenues and constraints on agricultural uses. Residents were generally satisfied with county services including the Sheriff’s office so they saw little or no advantage to being annexed into the city. The Committee noted, “County Employee Groups actively opposed and campaigned against the 1994 annexation attempt.”

Has anything changed since the early 1990s that would make large-scale annexation into the city more likely? No. In fact, the opposite has occurred. State law has been changed to give county governments even more power to negotiate tax sharing agreements with a city that ensures that the county can keep an even larger share of sales and property taxes while the city takes on all the financial burden of providing services to the new residents. Nothing compels a county to negotiate a tax sharing agreement with a city.

The notion that the city could annex the sales tax rich areas along Highway 49 is absurd, as the county officials know that North Auburn is a revenue generator that helps pay county employee wages, benefits, and other costs. The county is leasing their government-owned land to bring in the big sales tax generator, Costco. Similarly, those living in rural areas like Ophir don’t want more urbanization and wouldn’t trust city public officials who say they favor annexation to bring in more revenue for the city.

The problem with wishful thinking in the public policy arena is that it is harmful to citizens. Putting off hard work and tough decisions means more pain later. The homeowner who faces a balloon payment in five years will lose his home if he doesn’t start to save money now. Let’s stay focused on what is practical and achievable. That is why I supported the recent action by the City Council and City Manager to work with local business owners, business associations like the Auburn Chamber of Commerce, volunteers, and city staff to create a Strategic Plan to looks at each section of town and outline ways to enhance prosperity and the qualify of life for Auburn residents. The City Manager is poring over maps. Leaders in town are thinking anew about what can be achieved. Yogi Berra said, “The future ain’t what is used to be.” Let’s work together to create a brighter future for Auburn.

Published in the Auburn Journal on July 16, 2014