Burien City Councilmembers Ask For More Info On Annexation Financials
Burien’s “special district partners” gave city councilmembers their appraisal Monday night (Sept. 12) of impacts a potential annexation of North Highline would have on affected fire, water and sewer districts.
Council members, who asked City Manager Mike Martin to provide them with a variety of annexation-related financial details, will continue their discussion at a special meeting Monday, Sept. 19.
Last month the council heard reports from Berk Associates on its recently completed study of the proposed annexation of the remaining unincorporated area between Burien and Seattle.
The Burien Police Department and King County Sheriff’s Office also presented a comparison between crime statistics in Burien and North Highline.
No date has yet been set by the council for a vote on whether to proceed with annexation of the remaining unincorporated area between Burien and Seattle. City lawmakers earlier anticipated that consideration of this issue would occupy much of their time from late summer into fall.
Representatives of Water Districts 20 and 45, Southwest Suburban Sewer District and Valley View Sewer District said Monday that annexation of North Highline by Burien would not be impacted by a Burien annexation.
But if Seattle were to annex the unincorporated area, Water District 45, which is completely in North Highline, would cease to exist.
Annexation could work for the North Highline Fire Department (District 11), but the Burien/Normandy Park Fire Department foresees potential problems.
Water District 20 General Manager Dick Swaab told council members his district “will not be impacted in any way at all by annexation, and Valley View Sewer District General Manager Dana Dick said “we have absolutely no objections” to annexation by Burien.
Dick added there would be long-term rate impacts in Water District 20 if Seattle annexed the area because “we would lose 21 percent of our existing customer base.”
Councilman Jack Block Jr. expressed concerns about life safety issues relating to water flow and pressure in some of the unincorporated area because “Seattle (Public Utilities) has not maintained its utilities infrastructure.”
Southwest Suburban Sewer District Commissioner Scott Hilsen said the district “generally is supportive of working with the city of Burien and of annexation.”
The sewer district “would be harmed but not a great deal” if Seattle annexed North Highline, Hilsen added. “We would prefer that the city of Burien … we have a better working relationship with you.”
“Annexation could be a good or a bad thing for [the North Highline Fire Department],” noted Fire District 11 interim Chief Steve Marston.
“If all or most all of the area is annexed, that will be a good thing. If it is annexed in pieces, that will be a bad thing and further damage our service,” Marston said. “District 11 supports full and complete annexation of North Highline.
“If [Burien] annexes over 60 percent of North Highline, Fire District 2 becomes responsible for the remaining area of District 11,” which will then have to pay District 2 for those services.
But District 2 Chief Mike Marrs said annexation, with the Burien department assuming responsibility for fire and emergency aid response in North Highline, would require District 2 to add a full-time emergency medical aid unit at an annual cost of more than $1 million.
“There is insufficient funding for Fire District No. 2 to provide a full-time aid unit in the potential annexation area,” Gary Hobbick, Chairman of the district’s Board of Commissioners, stated in a letter to the city council.
District commissioners look “forward to the opportunity to cooperatively discuss and resolve these issues prior to the city finalizing a decision on annexation,” Hobbick added.
The issues in question, Marrs pointed out, include District 11’s pension liabilities of more than $1 million.
A Berk study prior to Burien’s 2010 annexation of “south” North Highline analyzed the impacts on Fire District 2 if Burien annexed the entire area, if Seattle annexed it, and if the area remained unincorporated.
Marrs told council members, who requested an update of this data for comparison and review at next week’s meeting, that “there are impacts either way.” If Seattle annexed North Highline, “we would be forced to build a new North Burien station,” he said.
Councilman Gerald Robison said “the financial issues that were raised can be worked out. My concern is service to the residents.”
Block, declaring “there are very real concerns about financial issues here,” repeated his call for financial mitigation from King County and the King County Housing Authority if Burien annexes the area.
“If the county wants this annexation to go through,” it should help pay for fire protection services because of the “large number of public housing units in the area that are subsidized but pay nothing for fire services.”
“This is a complicated decision,” observed Councilmember Gordon Shaw, who said earlier he is inclined to support annexation if the numbers pencil out. “There is a lot of information in the community that is incomplete … this [discussion] helped.”
Shaw also asked for a comparison of the actual costs of Burien’s 2010 annexation of “south” North Highline with earlier cost projections by Berk Associates.
Annexation is also on the agenda for the council’s Sept. 26 meeting, including an expanded comment period by residents. At this time, council members have no deadline for wrapping up their study of this issue and voting on whether or not to proceed with annexation.
During public comment at the beginning of the meeting, a number of residents, both from Burien and North Highline, addressed the council. The prevailing sentiments were against annexation from city residents and for annexation from unincorporated area residents.
After several references to a high crime rate in White Center and infrastructure problems in North Highline, Barb Dobkin, president of the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council, challenged these remarks.
“We can’t have an honest discussion if people distort the facts,” Dobkin said. North Highline “is not falling apart,” and people are “not entitled to use ‘just our own facts.’”