by Ralph Nichols

If you’ve not yet voted and mailed your ballot, remember, tomorrow – Tuesday, August 18, primary election day – is the deadline to do so. And if you live in the southern part of the North Highline unincorporated area, voting in King County’s first all mail-in election carries added significance. Your vote will help decide whether this area becomes part of the city of Burien.

If a majority of these voters says yes to annexation, Burien’s population will increase by some 14,100 residents with the addition of an area from South/Southwest 128th Street north to a zigzag line that extends west to east along Southwest 112th Street in north Shorewood, South 116th Street, South 112th Street, and South 107th Street in Boulevard Park, ending at Tukwila.

Much of Beverly Park and Boulevard Park, including the Rainier Golf and Country Club, will be absorbed by Burien. Left in the remaining unincorporated area between Burien and Seattle will be the North Highline fire station, Evergreen High School and Pool, and the Top Hat neighborhood.

And if annexation is approved – growing Burien by 44% and making it the 21st largest city in Washington with a population of approximately 45,900 (surpassing Olympia in population) – what happens next?

If Burien's annexation of the North Highline area passes, it will catapult from #31 to #21 in city size, surpassing the population of Olympia.

The first public action will be a special City Council meeting on Monday, Aug. 24, at 7 p.m., “to discuss the path forward, to determine how in general to do this whole thing,” says Burien City Manager Mike Martin. “In the next few weeks we will be hiring staff and taking inventories of capital needs (in the unincorporated area). We will need to start figuring out planning and zoning issues up there.”

At that council meeting, “we will bring a resolution to modify the municipal code so North Highline residents in the new annexation area can serve on city advisory boards and commissions now” – through the regular appointment process as positions become open. “This is kind of a big deal,” Martin says. “It will give folks in that area a direct say in advising the city council.”

He adds, “We want (the annexation process) to be seamless.” That is “the overarching theme … we don’t want people to be jolted by this, either the new residents or existing city residents.”

Another initial step, says Mayor Joan McGilton, is a citywide “visioning project. We need to ask those residents and existing residents what the new 45,000 population city should look like.”

“Even if annexation is approved on Tuesday, this area of North Highline will not become part of Burien on Wednesday,” Martin notes emphatically. The process of bringing the unincorporated area into the city will take several months, with annexation becoming official sometime in late winter at the earliest.

City staff already “has taken a cursory look at a lot of these things. We’re not operating in the dark,” he says. “But not a lot will be involved until voters say yes. We wouldn’t want to have spent a lot of time if voters told us they didn’t want to become part of Burien.”

The city’s primary focus on bringing the annexed area into Burien will be planning and zoning, streets and storm drains, and code enforcement, as well as adding staff to work on these matters. In addition, Burien, which adopted a two-year budget for the first time this year, will need to modify it for 2010 to allow for both increased revenue and spending.

The city’s contract with the King County Sheriff’s Office will be modified to hire more deputies as city police officers, many of whom already work in North Highline. All special districts – fire, water, sewer, library, and Highline schools – will continue to provide services in the newly annexed area without interruption or change.

And when the annexed area finally is inside the city, what then? Will Burien consider annexing the remaining North Highline unincorporated area between its new northern city limit and Seattle?

There is, says McGilton, “definite interest on the part of four current council members … to aggressively look at that. Two council members say the city has done as much as it needs to do. My personal preference (if the current annexation proposal is approved) is to settle in and then look at it. I’m a phase one, phase two person … if this is a success, then than will give us credibility to move on north.”

State law requires a simple majority vote of residents in an area designated for annexation before the merger can take effect. Residents of the annexing city do not vote on the question.

Since 2007, The B-Town Blog is Burien’s multiple award-winning hyperlocal news/events website dedicated to independent journalism.