UPDATE: Burien City Council Votes To Move Forward With Annexation
Burien City Council members voted 5-2 at their Oct. 3 meeting to begin the legal process for annexation of the remaining North Highline unincorporated area.
Mayor Joan McGilton, Deputy Mayor Brian Bennett, and Council members Rose Clark, Gerald Robison and Gordon Shaw voted to advance annexation.
Council members Jack Block Jr. and Lucy Krakowiak voted no.
The motion was made by Robison following a council discussion and seconded by Clark.
Bennett had voted at the council’s Sept. 26 meeting against bringing an annexation resolution before the council. Although “timely … I am not yet prepared to move forward,” he said then.
But after considering the issue for an additional week, Bennett said while a “fundamental issue is to do what is best for Burien,” another “primary concern” is what happens if North Highline residents “don’t get the political representation they deserve.”
On the other hand, “I am not confident that Seattle would act in North Highline’s best interests,” he continued.
While there are “risks involved” if Burien annexes the unincorporated area, “I am optimistic about North Highline … by the economic situation there in the future … and the commitment of the people to their community.”
Block, however, remained adamant that now is not the time to move forward, calling the move “ill timed.”
A lot of reasons have been “given why we should annex North Highline and I agree with them,” Block said. “But in order to do that we need to leverage our position [with King County and the state] as best we can … I feel we will weaken our leverage now.”
He added, “For the life of me, I can’t see why the people of North Highline would vote for “$80 car tabs,” “Taj Mahal” libraries, trolleys and higher utility rates in an annexation by Seattle.
Before proceeding with annexation, Burien should negotiate with King County – which, he repeated, has long neglected North Highline, and now with its $7 million deficit can’t afford the unincorporated area – to resolve financial concerns for a “win-win” agreement.
A formal annexation, should it eventually occur, remains well in the future, city council members were reminded before their vote on the resolution.
The first step, which the city will now take, is filing with the King County Boundary Review Board a notice of intent to proceed with annexation.
If this process plays out, the city council will set an election date, likely for late next year. Under state law, only residents of the potential annexation area will vote on whether to join Burien.
Following the election, if the measure is approved by the voters, the council will set a date to formally bring the newly annexed area into the city.
Burien Community Development Director Scott Greenberg, responding to an inquiry about what is the last point in the process at which Burien could pull back from annexation, said he thinks the council can decide not to annex even after an election approving it.
Shaw noted that when Seattle was eyeing North Highline, it tentatively planned an annexation vote in 2012 but would not formally annex the area until 2015. “There probably is a time limit” on how long annexation could be delayed after voter approval, he suggested.
“I’m not aware of that time limit,” Greenberg responded. “It’s something we should look into.”
Burien annexed the southern part of North Highline on April 1, 2010, following a public process of more than two years, which included discussions with Seattle, the Legislature, and an election in that area.
All but four of 17 community residents who addressed the council at the start of Monday’s meeting opposed North Highline annexation. Many of them had also opposed the city’s earlier annexation of “south” North Highline.
Because almost all the annexation opponents live in southwest Burien, it is difficult to gauge community opinion city wide.
This, said Kathy Parker, is why 3,000 city residents signed a petition prior to the first annexation saying “they do not want the highest crime rate in King County – yes, that’s true,” and demanding an advisory vote.
“You’ve ignored those 3,000 people,” Parker said. “You pay more attention to non-residents and special interest groups than to people who pay the taxes. If Seattle can’t afford to do this then why the heck do you think we can?”
State law does not mandate an advisory vote by city residents before annexation of an adjacent unincorporated area, requiring only a vote of residents in the potential annexation area.
Annexation is not one of the ways “to make Burien more wonderful in the future,” said Peggy Sharkey. “North Highline would be a financial drain. We would not be able to stand on our own … there is not a need to make an immediate decision.
“You have killed my spirit,” Sharkey added. “You’ve killed the spirit of many of my neighbors,” suggestion why few annexation opponents now attend council meetings and speak out. “I hope you will listen to the citizens.”
Bob Edgar, a city council candidate who is challenging Shaw in the November election, argued that Berk Consulting reports “never stated that annexation would be good for the long-term health of Burien.
“When the sales tax credit [from the state] runs out [in 10 years], the only options will be to raise taxes or significantly reduce services,” Edgar said. “There is no pressure to move forward. I request that council members not vote to proceed with annexation at this time.”
“Any action that threatens or impacts the financial situation of the city of Burien is not good for the city,” said Chestine Edgar. “The annexation of White Center is not in the best interests of the city. You will not have enough money by the time the 11th year rolls around.”
The city council doesn’t care what the downtown business community has to say, she added, also noting that predictions of a double-dip recession cloud the financial viability of annexation.
“Without the [state] sales tax credit, Burien can’t afford annexation,” Robbie Howell argued. That money “is not guaranteed in the face of the economic shortfall the state faces … this will bankrupt the rest of the city.”
Barbara Dobkin countered that “this is not just about White Center. It’s about an entire unincorporated area.”
Furthermore, she said, Seattle City Council President Richard Conlin remains “very interested” in North Highline. “Annexation is still alive and will be revisited by Seattle in 2010.”
This, continued Dobkin, who is president of the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council, “leaves North Highline vulnerable and in limbo.” And what happens there “affects Burien.”
An increase in the density of low-income, tax-exempt housing, which she said Seattle would allow in this area, would force Burien residents to pay higher taxes. “You will have little or no say in that.”
North Highline resident Liz Giba, who is running for a North Highline Fire District Commission seat, said “this is not a decision about today. It’s a decision about the future and your children.”
Burien “covers a very small area,” Giba said. “You need land to grow and we offer that.”
Responding to negative comments about North Highline, she added, “As long as we’re in King County, it’s not going to improve. Poverty and diversity are concentrated there by design” and will only increase. “It will be unhealthy for Burien, and for North Highline too.”
CITY COUNCIL DISCUSSION
“Annexation is about a lot more than just what happens to the city financially,” Shaw stressed. “There are a lot of negatives in not doing it, too.”
A major downside to not annexing is that a greater concentration of low-income housing in North Highline will negatively impact Highline schools, resulting in higher taxes paid by residents of Burien and neighboring cities – not by King County Housing Authority properties.
“You folks elected us to make the best decisions for Burien,” Shaw said. “When I vote on annexation it will be what I think is best for Burien.”
Earlier in the meeting, during the presentation of a brief Berk Consulting update, City Manager Mike Martin told council members “the discussion of annexation has to do with the concentration of poverty” in North Highline.
“About 5.4 percent of property in North Highline falls into low income” compared to “2.6 percent county wide,” Martin noted. “The concentration of affordable housing in North Highline is about twice as much as King County.”
This reflects why “I am concerned if we do not move forward,” Robison said. “The King County Housing Authority has a pretty large amount of property up there that they haven’t started moving on yet.”
Burien can control land use in North Highline – and avoid the building of more tax-exempt property, which will impact Burien – only if the city annexes that area sooner rather than later, he said.
If North Highline is annexed by Seattle or remains in King County, “we don’t control zoning,” Clark added. “If Burien annexes North Highline, we have control over zoning.”
An increased concentration of low-income housing in that area “has the potential to impact public safety” as well as schools,” she said. “Increased poverty means increased crime. It will not do any of us any good if we do not control zoning north of [SW] 112th [St.].”
Krakowiak, an outspoken opponent of the 2010 annexation, who said last week she would be a “no vote” on this resolution, did not restate objections before the council’s action.