Council Told Annexation of ‘South’ North Highline Cost Less Than Projected

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by Ralph Nichols

Burien’s 2010 annexation of “south” North Highline (aka ‘Area X’) “has paid for itself,” Finance Director Kim Krause told City Council members at a special meeting Monday night (Sept. 190.

And, City Manager Mike Martin reported, this has been done with the hiring of just one additional employee in the Parks Department.

Annexation will be a major part of the agenda at the city council’s next regular meeting Monday, Sept. 26.

Martin called the lone addition to staff “nothing short of remarkable” in the wake of adding 14,000 new residents to the city. “We’re not offering reduced services” to achieve operating efficiencies. “We’re being very careful” with city budgeting and spending.

Annexation has “performed quite well,” Krause said, comparing 2008 estimates for annexation with extrapolated actual figures from April 1 through Dec. 31, 2010.

“Expenditures are much less than anticipated,” Martin noted, although no property tax revenue was received by the city from newly annexed North Burien last year.

According to a Sept. 14 memorandum submitted to the city by Berk Consulting, their 2008 estimate of revenues from the annexation of “south” North Burien was $1.64 million.

The extrapolated actual revenue for the nine-month period was $2.11 million, although “the economic recession continued too put downward pressure on local government tax collections,” Berk reported.

Actual expenditures were $1,836 million, compared to estimated expenditures of $3.065 million.

Both Martin and Krause said the city will realize some additional costs, but it will also receive property taxes from the area this year. “We’ve tried to give you a very fair apples-to-apples comparison,” Martin added.

Mayor Joan McGilton noted later, “We’re one of the very few cities in the Puget Sound region that did not have a deficit this year. Staff and the Police Department have to be commended for their belt-tightening. We do it because we’re a conservative city … fiscally conservative.”

Councilwoman Lucy Krakowiak twice challenged the one-new-hire statistic, saying “it’s difficult for me to believe we did that without adding [additional] staff.”

Another 2008 projection by Berk had indicated the city would need six full-time-equivalent general fund positions to accommodate annexation, excluding police services.

“We did it and that’s a fact,” answered Martin. “We are a full service city. We will gladly add staff if council wants us to.”

The one new hire “did not include the police department, of course,” he said. But Berk found that prorated additional police costs were about $700,000 less than the original estimate of $1.8 million for the same time period.

Councilman Gordon Shaw called this “a credit to the staff and management of the city” given the current state of the economy.

Annexation of North Highline re-appeared on the Burien City Council’s radar in March after the Seattle City Council officially backed away from annexing the remaining unincorporated area.

But before embarking on what council members anticipated would be a lengthy process of reviewing the projected financial impacts of annexation, they had to wrap up the city’s six-month visioning process.

North Highline annexation was finally discussed for the first time as an agenda item at the council’s July 18 meeting. The findings of a new Berk Consultants annexation study were submitted to lawmakers on Aug. 1 and discussed at their Aug. 16 meeting.

Since hearing that financial analysis, the council has heard presentations comparing crime statistics in Burien and North Highline, and projecting likely impacts of annexation on affected fire, sewer and water districts.

Monday’s special meeting was scheduled to afford council members the opportunity to “pick up the loose ends … from the past several weeks,” and to ask city staff for any additional information they thought was needed.

Earlier in Monday’s meeting, council members received a requested update on Water Districts 20 and 45 and the Valley View and Southwest Suburban Sewer Districts. All four said there would be no change to their rates and service if Burien annexes North Highline.

Krakowiak said she still wants to see a three-way comparison: the impact to these districts and their ratepayers with a Burien annexation, a Seattle annexation, and if North Highline remains unincorporated.

Later, she expressed her displeasure that members of the public were not allowed to make comments to the council, as they do at regular meetings. Yet at the Sept. 12 meeting, when the council agreed to no public comment at Monday’s meeting, Krakowiak raised no objection.

General public comment will again be on the agenda at the Sept. 26 meeting. However, comments relating to annexation will be delayed until that issue is reached on the agenda.

The comment format will be modified to give the public an opportunity to ask questions and receive answers on this issue from council members.

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