Taxes go up, but here’s what you get in return: Burien makes the case for annexation
With a little over two months remaining until North Highline residents vote on their future, Burien officials made the case for becoming part of their city at the third annexation information meeting at the White Center Food Bank on Aug. 23.
The meeting was populated mostly by annexation veterans (both for and against), with only a few new North Highline residents in attendance.
Burien City Manager Mike Martin opened with an explanation of taxes, telling homeowners they can expect an average yearly raise of $140. Businesses would pay an annual business license fee and .05 percent Business & Occupation tax.
“If I were sitting in the audience, what I would like to have clarified is, ‘So, you get the same officers and a seamless change with the cops (policing numbers are expected to stay the same, potentially go up, Burien has said), special districts (including fire) stay the same, school district stays the same … what’s the point?,” Martin said.
The first point, according to Martin, is that King County does not want urban unincorporated areas under their control.
Unincorporated areas “were not intended to be urban in character, they were intended to be rural, but they grew up for good reasons," Martin said. "They require a level of services that wasn’t contemplated, so the county is going ‘We didn’t expect this and we are pulling out resources.’… They are out of whack and providing a higher level of resources than they can afford.”
Martin said change in White Center is inevitable, “and the way it changes, if left unattended, could be very, very messy. One of the things Burien worries about is, if left unattended, what does this become? Does this become where the county dumps its low-income housing? … I don’t think that’s a long shot.”
Second, Martin said the receptiveness of a local government will be a welcome change for North Highline residents.
“What local government brings is … somebody who stands up for what the people in the community want,” he said, citing changes made in Burien over the years, such as the revitalization of 152nd St., at the request of citizens.
In contrast, he referenced King County’s tendency to make land use decisions without any public input, including affordable housing development.
“Often in our community, our residents (and many of them are here) are not bashful about public input, and that is the way democracy is supposed to work, especially at the local government level.”
Asked about the potential of future gentrification or industrialization in North Highline if Burien takes the helm, Martin echoed this sentiment, saying he has no plans to turn White Center into Belltown, and development proposals for any given area would work through the public input process.
“Burien is a blue-collar town and yet we are … encouraging (more affluent) younger families to come in. At the same time, we want to make sure that we don’t build a city that excludes working class families because they can’t afford working class places,” he said.
Burien City Councilmember Rose Clark chimed in with more reasoning for a yes vote, stating, “The benefit is we will all be what we used to be, which is one community.”
She said the possibility of bringing in new industry to North Highline (well positioned near Seattle’s downtown, the freeways and the airport) would increase the tax base for Burien, making it a more successful city.
Chestine Edgar, a Burien resident and opponent of annexation, challenged Martin on how Burien would pay for the infrastructural needs of North Highline.
Edgar and Martin, as they have in the past, sparred on the specific numbers related to those needs, but Martin ultimately explained, “Every city has a six year capital plan (which) identifies projects that need to be built over some number of years.
“One of the things that cities do is you want to identify every possible need that you have out there because … if it’s not on the plan, you can’t get grant funds for it,” he said. “There is not a single city in the 281 cities in this state that does not have tens of millions of dollars of identifiable capital needs out there, and that includes White Center.”
Asked how Burien can afford to pay for the extensive human service needs of North Highline, Martin said many services will continue to be paid for by county budget funneled to other agencies and sustained through grants (federal, state and local) brought in by community organizations such as the White Center Community Development Association.
“The City of Burien’s model is the more partners we have doing this, the better off we feel,” he said. “So to the extent that we have people on the ground, currently funded through the county, and they would continue being funded, that would be the resource that we would deploy.”
Martin said Burien does not have city-sponsored homeless shelters or soup kitchens (although they do have food banks and a “strong faith-based community”) to support North Highline’s homeless population.
Lake Burien Presbyterian Church houses Hospitality House, a small women’s shelter for homeless women who do not have dependent children or who are not in a domestic violence situation.
Transform Burien provides free hot meals for the homeless at the Burien Community Center Annex on Wednesdays and Sundays.
Both activities are sponsored by cooperative groups of local churches.
In wrapping up the third to last annexation meeting before the vote, Martin encouraged North Highline residents in attendance to talk to their neighbors and encourage them to vote on annexation, whether for or against.
“I’m hoping to get a clear decision from North Highline,” he said.
Upcoming Information Sessions are:
Thursday, September 13, 6 pm
Beverly Park Elementary School, cafeteria, 1201 S 104th St.
Thursday, Oct. 18, 6 pm
Cascade Middle School, cafeteria, 11212 10th Ave. SW
You can read the West Seattle Herald/White Center News' prior coverage here and here.