Bozeman city commissioners are justified in initiating plans to annex isolated pockets of county land within the city limits. Some 30 parcels with about 500 pieces of property lie within the city. Residents in these areas benefit from some city services – such as law enforcement and fire protection – but they pay no city taxes. And that’s simply unfair to those who live within city jurisdiction and pay taxes for those services.

Historically, the city has annexed tracts of land only when those living there petitioned it to do so. But hopscotch annexations over the years have gone around these isolated patches of county land. By state law, the city can force annexation when city land surrounds county land. But the city must first develop a plan for the annexation that includes how services will be provided.

The commission’s action last week sets this process in motion. Commissioners will vote on the next draft of the plan early next year.

A look at the Google map of Bozeman graphically illustrates the number of county parcels peppered throughout the city. To be fair, Bozeman is not the only Montana city with county land within its borders. But compared to Billings, Missoula, Great Falls and Helena, it’s certainly more extensive here than in those other municipalities.

Forcing the annexations will not be popular with some landowners within the parcels in question. Commissioner Jeff Krauss voted against the action likening it to tyranny but then acknowledging it would be enforceable like tax collections are enforceable. “Don’t turn in taxes for a couple of years and see who shows up; it’s a guy with a gun,” he said.

A more apt analogy might be that of eminent domain – the legal principle that allows government to impose its will on landowners for the greater good of the population. Leaving these parcels as county land hampers the city’s overall planning efforts – essential to managing the ongoing rapid growth within the city limits.

Landowners within these areas would be wise to work with the city on its plans to annex to ensure they get the best deal possible at minimal costs to themselves. And city officials are likewise urged to minimize the impacts on these landowners as they make the transition from county to city property.

But in the end, this is something that needs to happen.

Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Nick Ehli, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Will Swearingen, community member
  • Angie Wasia, community member

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