Impassioned Crowd Packs White Center School for Lively Annexation Debate

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by Jack Mayne with photos by Michael Brunk

It depends on which side you listen to whether Burien will go broke annexing North Highline’s Area Y or whether staying unincorporated will mean that Seattle will gobble up the 17,000 residents of the area or, even if left alone, it will sink into county’s own budget morass.

Upwards of 60 people attended our lively South King Media annexation forum at White Center Heights School on Tuesday night to hear supporters and opponents of a ballot measure on whether Burien should annex White Center and other areas of the North Highline Unincorporated Area. The Nov. 6 measure will be voted on only by residents of the area.

Burien resident Debi Wagner, vocal opponent of the annexation, said the area should “vote no on annexation, retain your independence.” Not joining with Burien doesn’t mean “you will be forced to join Seattle, noting the region can simply stay under county rule, something supporters of the ballot measure dispute.

Wagner said the vote “is about whether to pay over $400 more a year to Burien in taxes and fees” because annexation to Burien “will increase and add seven new Burien taxes or fees for residents and businesses – B and O (Business and Occupation) taxes, property taxes, utility, cable taxes, permit fees, underground wire and fire levies with no increase in services for residents of Area Y (the unincorporated area between Seattle and Burien city limits).

She suggested Burien land use and zoning will negatively impact area neighborhoods.

Mark Ufkes and Debi Wagner

“Burien has parking tickets and requires permits to trim your trees. Burien does not have the money to provide more services that what is currently provided by King County so no increase in police or fire” and that sales tax credits will only cover the cost of police service.

In addition, Wagner claimed, “Burien does not have $77 million needed to improve and maintain roads, sidewalks or parks.”

“Human services, such as refugee and job services, homeless and senior services through the CDA (White Center Community Development Association) will be reduced or eliminated. King County Animal Control and medical marijuana dispensaries will be eliminated. If you join Burien, you will get no added services or representation for your increased taxes.”

The other annexation opponent on the panel, Mark Ufkes of White Center said flatly, “Burien is going broke now. Burien had to dip into its reserve fund to make payroll this year. There is not going to be any increase in police and fire services and we are going to pay considerably more taxes.”

Burien city council member Jerry Robison said, contrary to Ufkes’ comments, “the city of Burien is not going broke. The city council decided this year there is a structural deficit of property tax revenues which represents about 5 percent of the city’s budget and the city chose to spend some of its reserves rather than to cut services or raise taxes.”

Robison, who said he was at the meeting as a private citizen and not as a council member, disputed Wagner’s assertion that it would cost $77 million to maintain roads, sidewalks and parks.

Barbara Dobkin and Jerry Robison

“There is a $77 million estimate, somewhere, for the capital improvement plan,” Robison said. “Burien has a capital improvement plan (that is) the wish list we make if we get the money to do. It doesn’t mean that your roads are falling apart. It doesn’t mean that your are going to spend it all right now.”

Annexation supporter Barbara Dobkin, President of the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council, said that prior to the 2010 annexation of the southern part of the unincorporated area, King County did a study to look into government options for North Highline.

“Given the option of Burien or Seattle, most people in North Highline preferred Burien as the annexation choice. After reviewing the information about services offered and taxes collected by Burien and Seattle, the North Highline Council voted 10 to 2 to recommend Burien as the annexation choice.

“With continued study of the annexation options, we still stand by our original recommendation that the community would be better served by Burien,” Dobkin said. “We will have better representation in Burien. We will have a say in our future, in our growth. Our services will stay the same. We have along history with our neighbors to the south. We share schools, libraries, shares deputies and numerous other services. You will hear a lot of things tonight but there are some very basic issues that cannot be disputed.”

Wagner said, “It is a myth that the citizens of Area Y want annexation in the majority. This study that Ms. Dobkin referred to was the Nesbitt report finalized in 2006 and it stated for both Area X and Area Y their first choice was to remain with King County.”

She said the Nesbitt report indicated a lot of respondents had no idea “where in the area they were living.”

North Highline Council president Dobkin said it is known the area is not of sufficient size or depth incorporate as a separate city and staying unincorporated is not an option.

“Because King County does not have the same taxing authority that cities do, they are not in the position to fund services to unincorporated areas like North Highline so while we wait to annex we face drastic cuts to our roads, fire and public safety,” Dobkin said.

Debi Wagner responds to a question while moderator Judge Judith Eiler looks on

She said Seattle has had many opportunities to put annexation to a vote but in March 2011 the city put annexation on hold.

“But they have not taken us out of their comprehensive plan. It is conceivable that if we do not annex to Burien, we could end up in Seattle without a vote as the county may pressure the state for legislation to make this possible. It is only a matter of time before we are part of a city.”

Dobkin and Robison said several times at the meeting that the only place where reliable and balanced facts will be presented will be at the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council forum Thursday night. That forum appears not to have opponents of annexation on its panel, but will include “Washington State, King County, and Burien City representatives, who will be on hand to provide information, and answer your questions about this important issue that will be on the Nov. 6 ballot.”

After Wagner suggested again that Burien was broke, Robison repeated that the city wasn’t broke and that Wagner “represents the bulk of the opposition and the noisiest opposition to annexation. I see a number of people in the audience that are the same half dozen or so people who have shown up at city council meetings for years opposing annexation – people who are afraid that somehow annexing this area is going to pollute Burien and somehow ruin it,” Robison said.

“I talk to a lot of people in Burien and the majority of people I talk to welcome the annexation. There are legitimate concerns about finances but those have been covered and that a smoke screen that has been thrown up.”

He added that that the difference in taxes between the county and Burien is less than $100 per household a year.

“King County is going broke and King County does not have the money for urban services,” Robison said.

Former NHUAC president Greg Duff

Greg Duff, another from the audience, said it was “pretty clear” the county does not intend to keep unincorporated heavily populated areas.

“By hook or by crook, they are going to get out of it,” he said. “If you think you can stay unincorporated, I’m sorry, it’s not going to happen – it is a fantasy.”

During that first annexation campaign, in 2010, Duff headed the North Highline Unincorporated Council, and said he listened to Ufkes and Wagner and “the whole group saying how the first annexation was going to bankrupt Burien, how our taxes were going to up, how bad it was. You know what? It didn’t happen. I am only two houses inside Burien and I am very glad I am. Now we are hearing the same thing all over again. It is a scare tactic.

“If you think your taxes are going to go up a whole lot in Burien, wait until you get to Seattle… because you are not going to stay with King County,” Duff said.

Others suggested there are no laws requiring the area be annexed to a city, and that grants now going to some agencies from Seattle would stop if the area were in Burien. Also the millions of dollars spent by King County “to clean us up” would not be available from Burien.

Long-time White Center resident Bill Banks said most people he knew didn’t want to be a part of either Burien or Seattle.

“But, over the past 10 years… Burien has improved a lot (while) the City of Seattle is crowding a lot (with) those skinny houses” which are not something he wants near him.

Banks added that he has learned that the way people “get you to vote no is to scare the hell out of you” or to tell you things that worry you.

Burien resident Chestine Edgar

Chestine Edgar, a Burien resident, suggested that the so-called Berk Report, done for Burien, was “financially incorrect” and did not take into account the loss of value of property “by minus 19 percent last year and another (minus) 14 percent” this year in Area Y. Annexation, despite what Burien says, “is not going to be revenue neutral. There are going to be significant finances missing because of those revenues have dropped. Automatically, Burien does not get $5 million (a year from a state sales tax reimbursement), it must meet a specific formula.”

A man in the audience worried about animal control in the area if annexed by Burien. He said he has been told that if he finds a stray in the unincorporated area, he can take it to King County Animal Control but if he is in Burien CARES will charge him $100 to leave it with them.

“How are people in White Center going to feel about losing King County Animal Control because I certainly feel that King County Animal Control is a much superior service?”

NOTE: To listen to an MP3 audio file of the entire forum, click here.

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10 Responses to “Impassioned Crowd Packs White Center School for Lively Annexation Debate”
  1. Sylvia See says:

    Ms. Wagner claims that WCCDA services will be reduced or eliminated if the Bruien annexation is approved. As a long time board member of the WCCDA, I can tell you that this organization is funded by a number of different local government entities and private organizations as well as local citizens of the area. Our work in the community will not change or be reduced by annexation to any city and we look forward to partnering with whatever government entity is available. I am not a proponent of either side but would prefer that accurate facts be presented to the public.

    If Ms. Wagner cannot get this fact correct I am suspicious of her other statements.

    • Stephen Lamphear says:

      Thank you Sylvia. Much of what we heard at the “debate” was opinion launched as if it were fact. Ms. Wagner was the not the only offender.

      I remain very curious about the value to the community of the $10,000 grant to the Chamber that was used to design a website. No roads were repaired, no sidewalks built, no trash picked up, no trees or flowers planted, no park playground equipment purchased.

      Just what is the value to an average resident of a website for a self-perpetuating group?

  2. Mark Ufkes says:

    Respectfully, part of the comment above is not correct. The White Center CDA, in partnership with the White Center Chamber or Commerce, has received a substantial investment from Seattle city connected funding sources in the past several years. If we change our status from “unincorporated” to “Burien”, the White Center CDA will lose long term access to “Only in Seattle” funding and, in the future, the city will very clearly restrict investments to the Seattle city line. This could directly impact White Center businesses and residents below the city line. Also, in working with several funding efforts over the past ten years for White Center, and with a 25-year career in grant-based economic development funding, I can assure folks that our community is a much stronger funding candidate if we are unincorporated. Much stronger. Look at the millions King County has spent in the past ten years to clean us up, And finally, Burien has an entire social services budget of $100,000, yet Seattle estimated that the social services needs of just White Center alone are $1.6 to 1.9 million per year. The reality is that Burien is not a realistic source of social investment for White Center. Burien don’t have the money, they do not have the tax base, and right now, they are using reserve funds just to balance the budget. (Read the front page of the Highline Times yesterday). And we should also remember, the loudest voices for Burien annexation are also the loudest, very aggressive, voices against low and moderate income housing in White Center. The White Center CDA completed a wonderful low income housing project on a blighted block of White Center, and if the pro Burien voices would have had their way, that project would NEVER have been completed and that block would still be a mess.

    It is true, that if the residents of White Center do vote to annex, the exceptional leadership at the White Center CDA will work with whatever government has control of the area. But there will be consequences of Burien annexation, some will be negative, and it is important that these are spelled out.

  3. Fred says:

    To Sylvia See-
    The White Center Community Development Association (WCCDA) in the past has gotten funding from the Neighbor to Neighor/Seattle Foundation Funds. If the area annexes to Burien, the WCCDA will not be eligible for these funds.

    Neighor to Neighbor/Seattle Foundation Site
    The Neighbor to Neighbor Fund makes technical assistance and small grants available to organizations located
    in South Seattle and White Center neighborhoods. The purpose of the fund is to build stronger communities in
    those neighborhoods. The fund is particularly interested in supporting organizations that may not have access
    to traditional sources of funding.
    History & Overview
    The Neighbor to Neighbor Fund (N2N) began in 1991 as a joint program of The Seattle Foundation and the
    Charles Stewart Mott Foundation to support grassroots community organizing efforts in low-income southeast
    Seattle neighborhoods. The program focused on funding groups that were building community leadership
    while solving neighborhood problems.
    In 1996, the Neighbor to Neighbor Fund became a collaborative fund administered by The Seattle Foundation,
    whose members now include The Boeing Company, Kirkpatrick Family Foundation, Kongsgaard-Goldman
    Foundation, Lieberman Family Foundation, The Seattle Foundation, and the Making Connections Initiative of the
    Annie E. Casey Foundation. N2N continues to fund small, community-based groups in South Seattle and White
    Center and provides targeted technical assistance to grantees.

    Perhaps Debi Wagner has a point that your funding sources will be impacted by this annexation as you won’t be able to use this source any longer?

    • Sylvia See says:

      You are more than welcome to contact the WCCDA to understand more about our current funding sources and plans for the future. In fact i highly recommend that the staff at the WCCDA be contacted for real facts before they are used to sway public opinion.

    • Ivan Weiss says:

      I am curious to know, Fred, if you contacted each of the contributors to the Neighbor to Neighbor/Seattle Foundation Fund that you cut and pasted here, and asked them, each in their turn, what their plans were to continue contributing to the WCCDA in the event that North Highline voted to annex to Burien.

      My guess is that you did not. It appears that you just asserted baldly, with no corroboration, that WCCDA would “no longer be eligible” to receive that funding. I’m curious as to how you knew that to be the case. Would you care to enlighten us?

  4. Fred says:

    To Ivan Weiss-
    I doubt that your question is genuine in just wanting to know the facts about this source of funding or that you really care about the people who are served by these funds. If it was, you would have looked into the situation earlier. You would have gone down and mingled with us, the unwashed masses.
    You fancy yourself as a big cheese in the 34th Dems party and live on the elitist Vashon Island as does Sharon Nelson. Most of the decisons made by your group favor West Seattle and your island. However, you always try to tell us in White Center and Burien how we should vote without asking our opinion on candidates or issues-where we can get the best and most services for our population. You consider us the uneducated low, lives that live in South King County to politically manipulate. If you are so interested in our affairs, buy a house in one of the two communities, live with our problems, pay our taxes and live with our debts and dilemmas. Dare to live in communities that have great diversity, many people of color, new comers to the country with vast needs and no resources for them. Stop hiding on cushy, quaint Vashon Island. Get one of your Dems lackies to do the phone calling for you to enlighten you on these funds.I have already done my phone calling.

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