LETTER: Burien City Council To Impose License Fee Without Voter Approval?

Print This Post  Email This Post

If any of you are still awake after last year’s election goofiness, well it’s starting again.

The November 2009 Burien ballot included a proposal for a $25 vehicle license fee to pay for road improvements. It was hidden under a fully-owned subsidiary called the Transportation Benefit District.

I loudly opposed the license fee in print and blog. Then the vote was nearly 75% AGAINST the license fee. Apparently, rejection doesn’t bother this council. Apparently, the Burien City Council has forgotten the landslide support for $30 license tabs?

After the resounding defeat of this “hand in your wallet”, I predicted the Council would be back with a license fee that did NOT require voter approval. And here it is. I really hate to be right.

So, on April 26th, the Council voted to impose a vehicles license fee that DOES NOT require voter approval. Under the law authorizing the fully-owned subsidiaries called Transportation Benefit Districts, a public hearing is required to impose a fee – even one that doesn’t require voter approval. That hearing is a mere formality. If you have a comment, it is also just a formality. The council has already decided to impose the license fee. This time the fee is $10 – why $10? Two reasons: they can impose it without voter approval, and you are unlikely to make an issue about $10. Talk about cynical.

Last fall, the license fee would not have been assessed on vehicle owners in the yet-to-be-annexed North Highline area – they were not yet Burien citizens. Now that those 15,000 folks are proud Burien citizens and will be subject to the license fee.

So, the mere formality hearing is scheduled for June 21st. I urge the 75% of voters who rejected the $25 license fee to also reject the $10 license fee. Show up and be heard. If the council adopts the license fee despite overwhelming opposition (it’s a tradition with the Burien Council) surely the public outrage will be enough to force a vote through citizen referendum. We did that in 1996 to repeal the city’s first utility tax: we can do it again.

– Stephen Lamphear
Burien Councilmember 1998-2005

Print This Post  Email This Post


18 Responses to “LETTER: Burien City Council To Impose License Fee Without Voter Approval?”
  1. Theresa says:

    Thanks for speaking up, Stephen! When I read about this in the Highline Times, I seemed to recall that we voted against this. Why did the City even ask for our vote if they were just going to do what they wanted anyway? Did they think we were going to forget that we rejected this just a few months ago? If I wasn’t such a hot head, I’d run for some sort of position on the council. I’m tired of the incompetency and excuses.

    • Stephen Lamphear says:


      I think “hot head” is exactly what the city needs right now. That’s how I was described in 1996-97: a hot-headed rock thrower. I made a difference before they could get a posse together to hit me. You can help make things better, but only if you go after it.

    • Stephen Lamphear says:

      If you don’t show on Monday night June 21st and object to this unfair, regressive tax/fee that we already voted against by nearly 75%, then you will be confirming that the council can do what it wants without consequences. “We have met the enemy and he is us”.

  2. Coverofnight says:

    Yes, thanks to Stephen for speaking up on this issue! I agree with Theresa’s comments. It’s sad that citizen public input does not make ANY difference to this Council at all. Might as well save my breath and any wasted time attending the hearing and just use the power of my vote against them in the next election. EVERY one of them should be voted out! Unfortunately, I can be a bit of a hot head, too…..so I probably couldn’t run for public office. Too bad, as my simple stand on issues would be “No more taxes!”

    • Stephen Lamphear says:

      Certainly if you’ve watched or participated in the current Shoreline Management regulatory process you will have seen the total frustration on the part of citizens/residents. The process has been conducted as a series of monologues — no dialog between people and council.

      Supposedly in response to citizen requests for dialog, last night’s so-called Forum was so carefully orchestrated by the council as to be a great waste of time and lots of money. Only the “expert” hired by citizens had actually walked the beaches and offered reasonable, fact-based suggestions. In the 2 hours allocated, councilmembers and the “experts” talked and talked and talked — ultimately taking up 3/4 of the time. And it was totally clear that most of the council has already decided.

      One of the things Joan McGilton told me when she first came onto council was that once she makes up her mind, nothing can change it. That attitude certainly played out last night. Obviously, she relishes the bully-pulpit of the “mayor” slot (really just the chair of the council), while other councilmembers sit on their hands.

  3. Ed Dacy says:

    Just a point of clarifivation. The vote was on a limited sidewalk program, tis plan is on imprving te conditions of te payment in the roadss of ALL of Burien

    • Stephen Lamphear says:


      You are really good at the trees but not so good at the forest. Rather than spend your time and interest on details, examine the big picture.

    • David M says:

      Good point, Ed. I actually WISH it were just for sidewalks but this argument is apples and oranges. In any event, the streets do need help too. Pay me now or pay me way more later. Some just don’t understand that concept.

      As for the sidewalks, sure, some in our city are fine but the sidewalks of 136th are abysmal and perilous between 1st South and Des Moines Memorial. The only people who will say otherwise are people who have never attempted to walk it. I’m not expecting anything on par with the beautiful 4th SW but it sorely needs improvement.

      For anyone to imply that the current 136th sidewalk is fine is just not being honest.

  4. Rainycity says:

    I don` t think it would make a difference what it was for Ed, it`s just the fact the council would go behind the backs of the people which is just the reason I didn`t want to get annexed by Burien as long as those lyin`cheatin` %^&$$# were there.
    I no dat us bakwuds folk in the nordern sekshin o Burien cant reed nor rite so well and the conseal led them to beleeve dat thar wood be no moore 911 or police serviss if we didn`t get annexed and unfortunately a lot of them did believe it.
    Has the council ever bothered to ask the public for their input and or ideas on how Burien can maybe make some extra money like maybe the council themselves donning spandex and getting out their washing cars,, I would pay just to watch em…
    But then of course, I think they could make a minimum of a $1000.00
    a day just sitting on the corner of 148th and 1st in a dunk tank at a buck a throw.
    Maybe they could start a new trend, Drive-by bean bag throwing, folks drive by with a bean bag purchased ahead of time and try hit the bullseye and knock them off the platform into the dunk tank,,
    And Theresa, like you, I also a hot head,,

  5. Stephen Lamphear says:

    Perhaps a way to fund road maintenance would be to cut council travel spending. Anyone know who much has been spent on junkets since the recession set in?

    Yes, the point is that the people actually do have the ability to decide if they want road improvements. This is a backward version of the way the King County Council tubed with public safety funding. King County councilmembers decided NOT to let us vote on something we might actually vote FOR. Burien was already told “NO, and Hell No” on this regressive license fee last year, so now they’re gonna do it just because they can.

    As a former city councilmember I appreciate the challenges of funding basic public services. However, what non-basic public spending has been cut to the bone before taking choice away from the people, forcing them to pay any new tax or fee in the middle of tough times? Well?

    • Stephen Lamphear says:

      I already have documentation that one councilmember has spent more than $11,000 on junkets/travel since 2008 — almost twice her council salary.

      Let’s discover how much the other 6 have squandered since 2008.

  6. Concerned Citizen says:

    Well I don’t want to say I told ya so, but I told ya so. I’ve only been mentioning this for six months. Now that it is already a done deal we are gonna sit back and whine about it. So maybe now some of you will actually attend council meetings. Lets not sit back while the public works director convinces council to impose a utility usage fee. Yes anywhere from 3% to 6% per utility per month. All so he can fund his new public works department. Now I know King County isn’t perfect, but I think they are doing a fine job maintaining this city. Why does Burien need a brand new backhoe and three brand new pickup trucks? Thats enough money for one overlay season. Oh thats rite he’s gonna do two years worth of overlay with that 8.6 million dollar bond he was awarded. Which by the way will cost about 20 million after interest. So we have an empty downtown and a failing economy and we are going to borrow and spend money we don’t have. I love Team Kent (Mike Martin & Larry Blanchard) and the Burien City Council!!! Welcome to Burien North Highline residents.

    • Stephen Lamphear says:

      The 6% utility tax was imposed beginning in 2001. It goes to the general fund. If you are limited income elderly or disabled, you can apply for a complete tax refund.

      Actually, Burien’s fiscal position is pretty good. That doesn’t mean we couldn’t do with trimming some fat — like council travel and all the PR expense for high quality color everything.

      The important thing to me is to take the public’s answer to a tax/fee when they say NO by nearly 75%.

  7. Really? says:

    As pointed out earlier, are the asphalt overlay projects just ‘Lipstick on a Pig”? Two inches of asphalt over a degraded road base will put us right back where we are in a couple of years. It won’t last. It’s like painting your house with the cheapest paint just before it’s sold. Roads left to get in such bad shape such as ours will need much more extensive repairs and $$$$ that we are being told.

    • Stephen Lamphear says:

      Burien’s streets and roads are in good condition. Travel north of Roxbury, into south Seattle, and you’ll find 3rd world country roadways — Seattle still has gravel roads in some inner city areas.

      Overlays last longer than you think. That was done to Ambaum Blvd quite a while ago, and is in mostly good condition except for a large number of sinking utility covers (not owned by the city) turning into bone jarring pot holes, some subsidence under the original road bed in a few places (like near the LDS church).

      Road maintenance is an important part of the city’s responsibility for our infrastructure. It keeps commerce flowing — a good thing.

      HOWEVER, a tax/fee on your auto license, imposed without a public vote, that is the same for everyone regardless of ability to pay, is the wrong approach and regressive. As I wrote last fall, propose a property tax levy that we can vote on where those like me who have the ability to pay will be footing the bill, rather than on the backs of the poor.

  8. Stephen Lamphear says:

    Show up and speak out on Monday night June 21st. Object to this unfair, regressive tax/fee that we already voted against by nearly 75%. Demonstrate that the council cannot do what it wants without consequences. “We have met the enemy and he is us”.

  9. KaiJ says:

    Lamphear your time on the council caused nothing but polarization and drama. Nothing but divisive attitude backed by false credentials and bio. Enjoy this virtual environment as your soapbox, and know that a well funded grass roots contingent will counter any more of your aspirations to bully city employees or volunteers.

    Oh, I have to excuse myself as this discussion has given me a migraine…..that was often your line at meetings…

    Protective of what Burien was and could be again.

  10. Rainycity says:

    beings how I have my new shoes on, I just want to make sure I`m UP wind of this pissing match..

Share Your Opinion

By participating in our online comment system, you are agreeing to abide by the terms of our comment policy.

...and oh, if you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!