Most Oppose Annexation; Boundary Review Board Will Meet Again Tonight
by Jack Mayne
Three and a half hours perched on hard middle school benches and listening to overwhelming opposition to annexation of “Area Y” finally caused the 11 member Boundary Review Board Monday night to postpone more testimony and a possible decision until tonight (Jan. 10) at 7 p.m. again at Cascade Middle School.
Only a few of those testifying under oath before the board last night said anything good about taking the northern half of the North Highline Unincorporated Area into the city of Burien. Many of these have made similar comments over the past several months to the Burien City Council, which had made the request for the Boundary Review Board hearing.
“The figures the city uses are exorbitantly high,” said one person, while several demanded better figures and estimates than those in a so-called “discussion draft” report done by Berk and Associates on the annexation which was ordered and paid for by Burien city government.
In an opening statement by the Burien city staff, City Manager Mike Martin repeated a promise he has made before.
“There will be absolutely no annexation if the sales tax credit goes away,” he said at the outset.
He was referring to a sales tax credit created by the Legislature to help cities afford annexation “county islands,” area of unincorporated King County surrounded by incorporated areas.
The Legislature may cut the amount of money or cancel it all together in its attempts to balance the state budget. The answer to that won’t be clear probably until March or even April as the lawmakers just started their scheduled 60-day session.
That sales tax credit could pay Burien up to $5 million per year to help defray added costs of administering the 3.2 square mile area that is home to about 17,300 people.
Boundary Review board members asked Martin what would happen to Burien’s budget in 10 years when the sales tax credit would expire.
“All cities have a structural debt that disappears with time and we think tax income will grow over time to cover the shortfall,” said Martin.
But witness after witness questioned the assumptions in the Berk report, some wondering how a “discussion draft” could not be considered a final and comprehensive report.
“The 2011 Berk Report is inadequate and in no way reflects current costs,” said Chestine Edgar, al longtime opponent of the annexation proposal. “Nothing in Berk shows that annexation would improve the lives of those annexed residents.”
Burien Council member Lucy Krakowiak said the Berk study “is optimistic and we need real numbers.
The city’s police Chief, Scott Kimerer, was asked why a Seattle annexation study said it would take 44 added police officers to patrol the North Highline area while Burien figured only 15 additional officers.
“The crime rate in Area Y and Burien are not that different,” he said and suggested Seattle figured policing on a different scale than Burien would under its contract for services from the King County Sheriff’s Department. Some testifying said there were many more problems than that assessment indicated.
The two fire districts that provide service in Burien and the remaining unincorporated area will need to work out ways to work together, pay their outstanding debts and provide service to the entire newly enlarged area. Some on the Boundary Review Board asked that representative of the fire district come to the Tuesday meeting to outline the problems and possible solutions.
Liz Giba, a commission of the North Highline Fire Department, said she wanted the board to know her department “supports the annexation but we have concerns” and the sharing agreement with the Burien fire district.
“A present agreement (between the two fire districts) combining office staffs allows the district to maintain service and even improve it,” Giba said.
Debi Wagner, who lost her race to be a Burien City Council member, said the “city has drafted a ‘neutral’ conclusion to annexation even though housing values in North Highline have declined 17 percent. She and others think new estimated on the financial feasibility of the annexation need to be done using new, lower property tax assessments.
Robbie Howell noted Seattle’s City Council and mayor have said Seattle cannot afford to annex the area and put off any discussion of annexation until at least next month and probably for longer than that.
“If Seattle cannot can’t afford to annex North Highline, how can Burien, which can barely finance itself?”
The Boundary Review Board will meet again at 7 p.m. tonight (Tuesday, Jan. 10) in the cafeteria at Cascade Middle School. It will hear some additional testimony from citizens, give the Burien city staff time to rebut objections as well as hope to hear views and comments from the fire district, other utility districts and even from a representative from Berk and Associates on their study.
Then the board may make a preliminary decision, which it would finalize at its February meeting. If it approved the Burien annexation request, an election would be held in the unincorporated area either in August or November. If the election approved annexation, that would take place in 2013.