LETTER: Discrepancies Between Berk & Seattle Reports On Annexation Costs

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I’ve been following the blog on annexation and wanted to share some information with the readers and commenters I thought they might find interesting.

In comparing the Berk and Seattle’s analysis of costs of annexation it is clear to me there are a number of very high dollar costs either missing from the Berk report or not carried over into final analysis. Street lighting is $300,000. I don’t see any mention of this in Berk. Just SWM at $5 million alone would eat up the entire tax incentive. Repairs needed for the fire-station are $3.9 million. A new medic response center is needed, another $13 million there. Berk says the reason the street repairs, sidewalks, curb, gutter improvements are so much lower for Burien compared to Seattle’s estimates ($32 million less) is because Burien does asphalt overlay. And when was the last time someone saw asphalt overlay turn into sidewalks? This $45 (low Berk) to $77 (high Seattle) million dollars is not carried over into any years totals so either Berk assumes it disappears when ignored, it’s a mistake, it somehow fixes itself or Berk assumes someone else besides Burien is going to pay for it when nobody else will be responsible for it after annexation. King County looked at the trees in White Center and commented many of them were in very bad shape. The cost of this is not mentioned in Berk. Seattle noted the human services needs of the area are very large and far surpass their ability to service with their own needs already being cut. Berk assumes this multi-million dollar issue is one that can be sustained by the cities present paltry portion, potentially a very unsustainable situation. Seattle estimates legal fees, court costs, public defense and jail at $1,225,228 while Berk cuts this figure way down with no adequate explanation as to why. Low income housing costs at over a half million dollars is unclear to me in Berk since some things are re-named or possibly lumped in somewhere else. This housing situation may be a much greater need area than either reports have noted. So far, King County has not shared their historical recordkeeping on this issue. Berk notes 3 parks needing minor improvements, Seattle found 5 parks needing $900,000. Additionally, Berk estimates property will continue to appreciate at 3% which they carry over into positive revenue increases in the future but this is contrary to the past couple of years, contrary to current assessments and may further deteriorate in the future.

The differences between the reports is tens of millions of dollars, not something that 5 million of tax incentive will even start to cover. There are also rules and conditions for applying for that state tax incentive. It is not meant for capital improvements. Items have to qualify and there is a time lag between applying and receiving that can take up to a year. It is strange that Burien expects a surplus since the tax incentive can only be used for the annexation area, only for expenses realized and not to defray a Burien deficit. Worst case is we spend it out of Burien funds, apply for reimbursement from the incentive fund, our paperwork is not right, it takes a year and then the state decides to eliminate the program which Seattle saw as a possibility since the State has a 5 billion dollar deficit. Then what? It seems to me to be a foolish mistake not to question this report’s assumptions. But even as it stands, Berk still predicts a deficit for Burien. I think the hole is a lot bigger than Berk is plainly portraying. Burien’s only option will be to raise taxes to cover their shortfall. While the state does the same and while recession still looms on the horizon, this is not an option that residents can afford. Nor is it good for the people of White Center who will be further deprived of having their infrastructure, service and basic human needs properly met while having their taxes increase also.

The current discussion of crime rates reported recently in the Burien City Newsletter seem to indicate crime levels are fairly even between the present Burien and White Center. But where are the population differences figured in? If there are 3 times more people in present Burien, shouldn’t those figures for White Center be 1/3 of the total rather than almost equal or just a little lower? What about assault that is higher? Unless the numbers are already adjusted for per-capita, but I don’t see that on the page, either someone was trying to make it look good or not give enough information to make a conclusion. Both scenarios are bad.

Citizens need to show up at the next council meeting on September 12th and let their representatives know how they feel.

– Debi Wagner

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Debi Wagner is a Candidate for Burien City Council, Position No. 6.]

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11 Responses to “LETTER: Discrepancies Between Berk & Seattle Reports On Annexation Costs”
  1. FunnyBurien says:

    You lost me at “Street lighting is $300,000”. Seattle pays Seattle City Light for street lights out of its budget.

    City Light charges the unincorporated citizens direct, though I think it’s paid via the water bill?

    Check Box – Robison.

    • Shari says:

      Yes, a vote for the Foghorn Leghorn (“don’t bother me with facts, son, I’ve already made up my mind!”) candidate is certainly a great alternative. Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I’d really rather have elected officials who take an informed stance based on facts, not on gross exaggerations of the facts or on conveniently cherry-picked factoids taken out of context. Is this Mr. Robison’s typical approach to governance or does he just reserve it for the annexation issue?

  2. Debi Wagner says:

    It took several phone calls and three departments at King County to find out they pay Seattle City Light directly for street lights out of the tax base from the entire county and not through a utility tax or water bill which is paid seperately according to Lynn Horsterman who pays the bills for unincorporated King County. This is my point, if Burien annexes area Y this $300,000 would become the bill greater Burien ratepayers will have to pay, whether through utility tax, general fund or whatever means, it is missing from the Berk report. Maybe Berk was only concerned about what the city would have to pay and didn’t care to note the extra taxes that might be passed on to citizens?

  3. Chris says:

    Some of the items you mention really don’t compare between the two cities. For instance, the money Seattle estimates it would spend to “upgrade” a fire station (to the tune of 3.9M), is merely something the City of Seattle “thinks” it needs to do to bring the facility to what they term as “their standard.” Well, Seattle’s standards sometimes are far beyond other jurisdictions standards.

    And as far as a medic unit (which I think you’re talking about when you mention a “medic response center”), was something only Seattle decided it needed. This all boils down to service delivery issues that Seattle is reporting on. With a Burien annexation, nothing changes and the fire station located off of 112th and 16th Ave operates just as it is now, and the medic unit that currently covers the area will continue to provide the same service.

    In a Seattle annexation, Seattle had grand plans to change the staffing in the newly annexed area.

    So, some of these items you cannot factor into your analysis.

  4. Debi Wagner says:

    Yes thank you for your comments. The fire station is not gender neutral and does not meet earthquake standards both applicable to code beyond Seattle borders.

  5. VERY TIRED says:

    The fact of the matter is that annexation is not going to be without it’s costs. The question is, can Burien afford them. The first annexation might be fine (just barely, financially speaking), but to take on more debt and more responsibility for law enforcement, maintenance, and other concerns is still up in the air. We have two reports, one favourable, one not. Which is telling the truth? Which one was paid for by the city?

  6. Jerry Robison says:

    When I read Ms. Wagner’s posting I was reminded of the excess of wrong information that has been put out by those who are opposed to annexation and their refusal to accept the evidence and make a decision based on facts rather than emotion. Her message illustrates some of the most common misperceptions or misinformation.

    Street lights. Take a look at your sewer bill if you live in the part of Burien served by Seattle City Light. Right now, if you live in North Highline (or the part of Burien served by Seattle City Light) you pay a $3.50 charge on your sewer bill for street lights. Street lighting is currently paid for by the sewer customers in the area, and they will continue to pay for it. It is not a charge that will be borne by Burien taxpayers in general. I expect that Seattle included street lighting because inside its city limits that is a general service provided by the City. Residents annexed into Seattle would not save $3.50 a month on their sewer bill though, since Seattle (even in Arbor Heights, which is served by Southwest Suburban Sewer District) sewer rates are based on water consumption and average three times the rate charged in Burien.

    SWM is another item that is paid for out of a separate fund. Take a look at your property tax bill. SWM funds are separate from the general budget and annexation will not affect the tax rate for current city property owners. Review of city budgets, present and past, shows that the amount spend to SWM equals the revenues received from the SWM assessment. That would not change with annexation. I don’t know where the $5,000,000 figure comes from, since the Seattle study assumes an annualized CIP cost of $450,000 (page 17).

    Fire District. Seattle’s estimates are necessarily higher because it would be expecting to improve protection for areas of Seattle (primarily Arbor Heights) that are presently under served by existing SFD facilities and resources. Burien is not in the same position of having to make up for existing shortfalls in areas that are already part of the City. Issues around the cost of modernizing stations (which were built at a time when almost all of the firefighters were volunteers and none were women) and equipment have been raised by FD 2’s commissioners, and will be addressed in discussions with King County and other agencies before annexation is implemented. Previous fire district improvements (and operations) have, as in FD 2’s area, been funded by the people served and that is not going to change.

    Streets. As stated in the Seattle study, estimates depend on the level of service chosen. As indicated on page 18 of the Seattle study, Seattle’s engineers based their estimates on a review of pavement condition reports, apparently without actually looking at the pavement or checking on King County’s plans for resurfacing. One of the worst streets in North Highline (16th Ave SW) is being resurfaced right now by King County as part of its regular street maintenance program. The simple effort of driving through the North Highline area shows that its streets are not any different from those already in Burien, and certainly does not indicate any desperate need for spending on the scale of Seattle’s high estimate. On the other hand, the figures bandied about by the annexation foes are always the most extreme estimates from the Seattle report. But even the low estimate in the Seattle study is suspect because the totals used in that report are nearly double the sum you get when you add up the components, and seem to assume that everything will need to be repaired or rebuilt. Anyone who has concerns about the condition of streets in Burien and North Highline should take a drive around and look at them.

    Parks. Again, take a look at the parks. Compare parks in Burien, North Highline and Seattle. There is no doubt that King County has neglected some of its parks. Nor is there any doubt that Burien’s standard for parks is higher than in King County or Seattle. But, especially when compared to Seattle’s parks, the parks in North Highline, though under utilized, are in pretty good shape.

    Human Services. Seattle started providing human services for its residents before the Federal, State and County governments took up that responsibility. Now, Seattle does not fund its human services through its general taxes, but does so almost entirely with money received from the Federal and State governments. When Burien incorporated, human services for people living in what is now Burien were provided by a range of Federal, State and County agencies, and NGO’s. That did not change with incorporation. Services were not reduced, and Burien did not take on the responsibility for providing those services. Human services in North Highline will not be affected by annexation and the burden on Burien taxpayers will not be affected by annexation..

    Crime. Ms. Wagner does not seem to understand what a rate is. The crime report gave figures as rates, not absolute numbers. Using a rate instead of raw numbers yields a better analysis when comparing different size populations. If there are two crimes per 1,000 people in a population of 48,000, that equals 96 crimes total. If there are two crimes per 1,000 people in a population of 16,000, that equals 32 crimes total. Ms. Wagner got it backwards, if White Center has one third the number of people, but the same crime rate, then it has one third the number of crimes, not three times as many.

    I urge everyone to attend or watch (on public access TV) all of our City Council meetings. If you miss a meeting you can go to the City’s website and see the video of the meeting. I believe in thoughtful, rational, fact based decision making and I hope that is want you want as Burien residents and property owners.

    Jerry Robison,

  7. Thom Grey says:

    Dude Robison,
    You want to talk about facts but then keep trying to sell this piece of junk real estate to the citizens of Burien based on non-facts. Dude, watching the conversation flow at the meetings, you are always arguing with any fact that suggests annexation might not be a good idea. So here are some facts to chew on. FACT 1-the actual crime rate in Area Y/White Center is higher than in Burien. Read the last Sheriff’s presentation again-not the dispatcher calls the actual crime rate. FACT 2-Seattle keeps its parks up better than anything Burien has to offer and the parks in North Highline ain’t in good shape. They are run down, constantly vandalized and will take big money to fix them up. Hicks Lake is a mess that will suck up a lot of money to clean up-if it ever can be cleaned up. FACT 3-the North Highline Fire District has money problems. After Russ Prichard ($198,000-56% salary increase) and Scott LaVielle ($186,370 salary) (both ex-fire chiefs) pumped up their salaries at the expense of that fire district, the fire district couldn’t longer afford to have a fire chief. Even the state auditor had some serious concerns about what went on there and investigated it. So now it looks like District 2 (Chief Marrs) will have to pick up the work load as well as the costs for this district. Like duh, all of the Burien residents will have to fund this less than adequate fire district and station. Marrs said at the last Council meeting this will cost over $1 million. Remember, you were at that meeting and tried to grill the chief to death while Shaw tried to make him say something nice about annexation. FACT 4-the property in Area Y/White Center is declining in value at twice the rate of other properties in South King County and Burien. Dude, generally people do not want to buy or invest in the residential or commercial properties in that area-haven’t wanted to for 50+ years. That means the area will continue to bring in even less money to support the area. Read the Sept. 14, 2011 news article. FACT 5- 25% of the people in Area Y/White Center live on local, state or federal public assistance. There ain’t no way that Mike Martin’s estimate that $100,000 is going to cover both the fire and human services expenses for this area. You believe that and I have a great bridge in Brooklyn that I want to sell you. FACT 6-The 2007 Berk Report states that annexing both Area X and Area Y/White Center will put Burien in the hole $2.5 million dollars a year-when the sales tax credits run out. How come no citizen can ever see a copy of that report?-Burien has not put it online for citizens to read. Dude, the infrastructure up there’s a mess-hasn’t been repaired or kept up in years-you drive around and take a good look. FACT 7-you were a member of the Unincorporated North Highline Council. You run White Center Jubilee Days. You continually try to market this area as a good real estate investment. No one else in the county believes it is. You keep trying to say that this has to be voted on right now even though none of the special service providers said that it was urgent for a vote. So like are you a council person for Burien with Burien’s best interests in mind and looking at just the facts or are you a marketing/real estate agent for your old Buds in Area Y/White Center? You just keep repeating your old real estate clichés at the Council meetings.

  8. Dear Mr Grey, you’ve made some good arguments (dude), however, I feel you’re missing or ignoring the bigger picture.

    We need to assume that either Burien or Seattle will annex North Highline eventually. The do nothing option is only for short term thinking and, I feel, not viable in the long term.

    In regards to your FACT 1,4,5, and sort of 6. – Whether you or Mr Robison are correct is not the problem. We have to look at bigger picture. The question we need to look at is WHY. It’s obvious that King County has had (if only) an unofficial policy of concentrating poverty in South King County. While the SKC Valley cities banded together and attempted to control this, the Highline area from Roxbury down to Federal Way (but really including them down to the Pierce County line) have been governed by the King County Council until relatively recently. Continue to expand that thought. Seattle is treating its southern neighborhoods in a similar fashion.

    We have to wonder how Seattle would treat the North Highline area. I’m willing to bet that they’d continue the KCC and their own policy by placing more low income housing in the North Highline Area.

    Concentrating poverty has the issues of increased crime rate, lower property values, and increased use of public assistance like you’ve stated Mr Grey. It’s not because they’re “criminal” in nature or “lazy”, far from it. I grew up and lived in East L.A until I was 9. East L.A is one of the most impoverished areas this country has to offer. I can tell you that all you need to “break” the cycle of poverty and crime is to offer hope. That little ray of hope goes a long way with many, if not most people. That little ray of hope helped my dad land a job making enough to move us out of East L.A. That ray of hope is one reason I have a good job and can provide for my family.

    I believe that we, the city of Burien, can and will offer North Highline that ray of hope. The reason being that these kids are a part of the Highline School District. This is the same school district Burien, SeaTac, Normandy Park, and Des Moines send our kids. Whether Burien or Seattle annex the area will remain a part of the Highline School District. Seattle Public schools will NOT be annexing that area.

    Repeating – Seattle Public Schools will NOT be annexing North Highline into their service area.

    So, assuming Burien does NOT annex North Highline we must assume Seattle will. Combine that with the knowledge that Seattle will continue to place low income housing in North Highline. Taking the next logical step means that even though these are Seattle kids, and that Seattle is placing more and more in North Highline that the average Seattle resident will not have to pay for their education. Since the Seattle resident is not paying for their education, they will have little incentive to stop Seattle government from continuing to concentrate poverty in North Highline.

    We then have to ask ourselves who would be paying for this? The Highline school district tax payer that is who. This includes not only Burien, but SeaTac, Normandy Park, and Des Moines as well.

    The tax payers of HSD who live in Burien, as well as SeaTac, Normandy Park, and Des Moines already subsidize the education of North Highline kids to the tune of several million per year. My math is fuzzy on this exactly as I am still waiting for information from HSD to arrive at the final number.

    I have zero issue with subsidizing North Highline kids’ education, currently, since we have some representation on the KCC. If we allow Seattle to annex we would have no representation in the area. One might say we would be taxed without being represented.

    Now, I would personally support and vote for any and all levy/bond increases from HSD to pay for this, however, I wonder if you would Mr Grey, dude. I wonder if enough tax payers would. I fear they would not.

    I fear that if we (Burien) allow Seattle the opportunity to annex North Highline that the true losers will be the Highline School District and by extension our kids.

    In regard to Fact 2: That would be subject to negotiation with King County. Burien could demand that the parks be brought up to Burien standards before taking control of the parks. Once we have the park it would be on us to maintain and protect it.

    In regard to Fact 3: Yes, the North Highline Fire District has problems and what would happen if Burien annexes the rest of North Highline is well known. What is not well known is what happens if Seattle annexes North Highline. The tax payers of Burien/Normandy Park Fire district 2 would HAVE to build a new fire station in North Burien. Whether it’s cheaper to renovate two fire stations or build a new one is not something I have the numbers for.

    Additionally, as stated by Burien/Normandy Park Fire, Seattle is great for major/mass incidents requiring a response. They are not so great for small incidents, typical stuff. The issue is that they have their own dispatch and radio systems that do not interface with South County fire districts. As Mr Block Jr stated, any slow down in the “Golden five minutes” can be disastrous. If we have to call Seattle Fire by phone to have a dispatch of medical aid to a North Burien resident how long would that take?

    Fact 7: So(?) on the White Center Jubilee days. His reasoning to vote on it now is to preclude annexation from Seattle and to gain leverage on King County.

    Here is how it works. Assume that the Burien City Council approves a ballot measure asking the North Highline area if they want to incorporate in to Burien. Assume the measure passes. That is when the fun begins, so to speak.

    Burien now has leverage to negotiate with King County. King County wants to no longer pay for the area. Burien demands and asks for concessions from King County (Parks, Police, Fire… the moon). Assume King County says no to everything or to critical needs or whatever. It’s not conductive or cost effective for Burien now. The Burien City Council could then table the motion to incorporate North Highline into Burien.

    Thank you for your time and consideration,

    Joey Martinez
    Former Candidate for Burien City Council Position 4.

  9. Debi Wagner says:

    The 5 million dollar figure comes from your own Berk report 8/17/11 page 27. Stormwater management is identified as a 5,000,000 present need as part of the capital improvements program with a total of 32 million. This is a very important part of the overall capital projects section. According to Berk, this has to be upgraded before street improvements are made. My point about the 5 million was this by itself can eat up the entire tax credit if it could be applied to this part of the capital improvement projects, which doesn’t seem likely.
    I suppose the crime rates can be spun any way you want. There was no identification in the Burien City News of how they relate to population density.
    My concern about street lighting is that Seattle identified it as a cost and Berk did not. How things are paid for between the city of Seattle, Burien and how it is now collected through King County are important because whatever King County now pays through its one million tax and rate-payers will then become the bill for the 40 thousand citizens of Burien.
    Now I find out there are things missing from both reports like the pensions the fire department will be required to absorb. And frankly, I was embarrassed by the behavior of the council when the fire department representative making the presentation to the council meeting prior to last was very patient and cooperative while council grilled on how we can make this work like it is a foregone conclusion Burien will annex.
    Your insistence makes me wonder why Burien is pushing so hard. I do not understand what gain can come of this. I do believe however, the council needs to step back from this and extract performance on some of these neglected areas from the strength of the King County taxing authority before venturing into this risky proposition. Most of all, the city council needs to be representative of what the present citizens want, not their own desires whatever might be behind those.
    Debi Wagner

  10. Mrs Wagner, first it was a pleasure meeting you that night in July at the candidates forum and I wish you luck in the election.

    The Storm Water management (SWM) is an issue. It’s also something presently paid for by property taxes. I surmise that what will happen is that if 1) the puts the question of annexation to the North Highline voters and 2) it is passed; that Burien will negotiate with King County to have it “brought up” to acceptable standards before handing it over to Burien.

    Barring that and other consessions I would urge the council to table the incorporation of North Highline. It would then force the King County council to look long and hard at the question and see if they really want to get out of governing North Highline. We do not have the leverage to push King County otherwise.

    The incorporation could be tabled indefinitely by the way, though I am not sure what that would do to the annexation vote (does it expire?)

    Crime is crime and there are many ways to read the same numbers.

    Some things, like street lighting, will not change if Burien incorporates North Highline. KCHA will continue to pay their part of the light bill. It would be an issue for Seattle because street lighting is paid for out of the Seattle General fund. Not sure what recourse Seattle has for that problem, but it’s not ours.

    The pension is an issue for either city who annexes. If Seattle annexes, the current residents of FD 11 would be annexed into FD 2 (I believe). The pension part of the problem would remain with the North Burien/North Highline residents who were a part of FD 11. It would be a three way negotiation with whom assumes the majority of that “problem” and how it is divvied out.

    As far as the Council meeting: I didn’t really get that at all. I felt that they were doing their jobs in poking and prodding as much information out of the special districts as possible. Had we stuck with FD#2s letter it would have looked dreary but through Mr Shaw and Mr Robison’s “insistence” we found that we’ve got to build a station up there if Seattle annexes and provide for medic services (either way). Again it’s not cut and dried like you make it sound.

    I also hope you read my comments on the school district and I’d appreicate your take on it.


    Joey Martinez

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