by Ralph Nichols 
Echoes of the Burien City Council’s recent vote rejecting an 11th-hour attempt to pull annexation from the November ballot reverberated at their Aug. 20 meeting.
Councilwoman Rose Clark, who was absent from that Aug. 6 session, sharply criticized on Monday the fact that a vote on a major issue was held with not all council members present.
Noting it has been a long-held council policy that key actions will be taken only with all members in attendance, Clark rebuked Councilman Jack Block Jr., who made the motion to remove the annexation question from the November ballot for deviating from that practice.
Block’s motion followed comments from 18 persons who argued that Burien can’t afford to annex unincorporated North Highline, including the White Center commercial area, and implored council members to rescind their prior action putting the issue to a vote.
Under state law, only residents of an unincorporated area targeted for annexation vote on the question of whether to join the adjacent city.
Block retorted that he made the motion because the next day, Aug. 7, was the last day the issue could be removed from the ballot. He also told Clark that she should know exceptions to this council policy can be made when time is a critical factor.
The City of Burien’s next informational session on annexation in North Highline will be held at 6 p.m. tonight (Thursday, Aug. 23) at the White Center Food Bank, 10829 8th Ave. SW.
Despite Clark’s absence on Aug. 6, the result of that vote was a foregone conclusion – and apparent posturing for the 2013 city elections. Block is one of the council members whose term expires next year.
Council members Bob Edgar and Lucy Krakowiak, both long-time annexation opponents, joined Block in voting for his motion to remove annexation from the ballot.
Mayor Brian Bennett and Council members Joan McGilton and Gerald Robison voted against the proposal. None had publicly expressed any indication that they had changed their position on annexation, and all three voiced support for proceeding with the vote.
The motion died on a 3-3 tie vote.
During public comment, concern over a projected decline in city revenues as well as previously stated arguments against annexation were raised by opponents – who almost in unison demanded that council members remove annexation from the ballot.
“Sold Down the Toilet”
Debi Wagner, who some see as a candidate for election to the council next year, said “lies have been fed” to North Highline residents. “What’s in it for us?” she asked. “Nothing.”
Wagner told pro-annexation council members they had “sold Burien down the toilet to bankruptcy if it doesn’t work out,” and threatened them with “defeat at the polls.”
“Annexation appears not to be affordable,” added Chestine Edgar, who repeated the request that it be removed from the ballot.
And Kathy Parker, noting that about 2,800 Burien residents had signed a petition calling for an advisory vote in the city on annexation, said “I ask each of you tonight to stop this.” Otherwise, she stated, “you’ll all be gone and we’ll be stuck with the bill.”
The people who signed that petition in 2007 were not at the Aug. 6 meeting “because they’ve given up,” Parker added. “They’ve lost faith in this council.”
Sales Tax Credit Disputed
Annexation opponents also declared that Burien will not get $5 million a year in a state sales tax credit for 10 years if it annexes North Highline, as claimed by the city.
It was stated that other cities larger than Burien, which have annexed unincorporated areas in recent years, receive a much smaller sales tax credit from the state – as does Burien for its first North Highline annexation.
However, as The B-Town Blog reported earlier, the sales tax credit for these annexations is based on an earlier formula established by the Legislature.
A new formula for a sales tax credit of $5 million a year for 10 years was adopted in 2010 specifically for annexation of the remaining unincorporated North Highline area, should either Burien or Seattle do it.
But Gil Loree of North Highline, one of a handful of persons who spoke in favor of annexation, said North Highline residents should be allowed to vote.
“It’s about looking to the future,” he said “Great things are possible for this area between Burien and Seattle. Please let us vote as you’ve already voted in the council.”
“Not Fiscally Prudent”
When Block made his motion, which was seconded by Krakowiak, he said “as I look at our finances and our projected budget, we can’t afford to do that right now. It is not fiscally prudent….
“As a city we need to get our own house in order,” he added, citing “unfinished projects … before moving forward.”
And Edgar observed that “the facts are unknown, the costs are unknown” about annexation at this time.
An Essential Opportunity
But, countered Robison, “what I heard tonight was an incredible depth and breadth of misinformation.”
Noting “there are fewer empty storefronts [in White Center] than in Burien … this isn’t a millstone we’re taking on. It’s an opportunity that I believe is essential to the long-term survival of Burien.”
Robison added that he favors “letting the people in North Highline vote. Let this be debated on its merits in North Highline.”
Those who spoke against annexation “live south of Shorewood and west of Ambaum,” he also observed. Of the 18 anti-annexation speakers, 15 were from Southwest Burien, two from the recently annexed area of North Highline, and one from the unincorporated area.
Two of the speakers supporting annexation were from the recently annexed area, while the third was from North Highline.
McGilton said “nothing has changed” in the arguments that say “let’s not annex anything, we like Burien the way it is,” which have been raised for over five years. “It’s time to give North Highline voters the chance to say yes or no.”
Turning her attention to Block’s comments, she charged that “Mr. Block continues to speak for unnamed council members. Mr. Block, I can speak for myself. Please don’t speak for me.”
McGilton also said the signatures on the petitions cited by Parker were gathered several years ago and that “times have changed.”
Her remarks reflected a finding in a scientific city wide survey on the proposed Kids and Cops Initiative, conducted earlier this year by DHM Research, in which only 5 percent of respondents said annexation should be stopped.