County paints bleak picture if North Highline does not annex to Burien

King County officials painted a dire picture at a North Highline Area Unincorporated Council (NHUAC) information session Oct. 4 of decreased services to North Highline residents if they don’t approve annexation.

K.C. Councilmember Joe McDermott even raised the possibility that North Highline’s roads would gradually turn to gravel because of the lack of county maintenance.

NHUAC has formally endorsed annexation to Burien and McDermott also read a letter of endorsement from King County Executive Dow Constantine at the Oct. 4 meeting (the letter is attached at the top of the story).

North Highline residents will vote on annexing to Burien in the upcoming Nov. 6 election. Seattle officials had previously named North Highline as a potential annexation area but have not gone forward with the process.

Information meetings sponsored by the city of Burien have featured City Manager Mike Martin talking about annexation from Burien’s perspective.

But the NHUAC meeting included Councilman McDermott, Sheriff Steve Strachan, county analyst Karen Freeman and state Sen. Sharon Nelson. Martin, Burien Fire Chief Mike Mars and Assistant Burien Police Chief Carl Cole also participated in the panel.

Councilman McDermott and Freeman, from the Executive’s office, emphasized the county is designed to provide regional services such as public health and jails but not services to growing urban areas.

McDermott noted the county has prioritized road maintenance into five tiers. About 36 miles, the vast majority of North Highline’s roads, were labeled as Tier 5, which is the least amount of service, he said.

“Budget pressures mean the county can’t sustain the level of service,” McDermott declared.

Noting he is the county council member for North Highline, McDermott said if residents annex to Burien they would have seven city council members representing them.

Sen. Nelson said the $5 million per year state sales tax credit Burien would receive for annexing North Highline was specifically carved out by the legislature as a “carrot” to Burien or Seattle to annex North Highline.

She said the credit is much bigger than given to other annexed areas because state lawmakers realized North Highline has extra needs.

Nelson noted the $5 million figure was based on retail sales in Burien. She said if the legislature had based the number on Seattle’s sales tax revenues it could have reached $30 million so lawmakers capped it at $5 million for either Burien or Seattle.

She said the credit is good for 10 years. But she warned that Jan. 1, 2015 is the deadline to qualify for it.

City Manager Martin noted Burien “is the poster child for contract cities. Special taxing districts provide most services, such as fire, water and sewer. North Highline residents will still receive the same services from the same districts after annexation.

Martin insisted annexation would be revenue neutral for Burien.

“This can be done. We have more than ample resources,” Martin declared.

Martin noted Burien received a $500,000 state tax credit when it annexed the 14,000 residents in Boulevard Park. The city will receive $5 million for annexing the 18,000 residents in the remaining North Highline area.
Responding to those who doubt Burien would receive the full tax refund, Martin said, “We get $5 million. Game over.”

The city manager said a strong argument for annexation is that Burien officials would be advocates for North Highline’s needs.

“We punch above our weight,” Martin said. “You will have a voice. You will have a mechanism to make change.”

Burien Fire Chief Mars, who is also acting North Highline fire chief, said the Burien/Normandy Fire Department, also known as King County Fire District #2, would take over fire services from the North Highline department.

Sheriff Strachan said if White Center does not annex, his department is committed to keeping service on current levels.

“We would like to increase, but I don’t know if we will,” Strachan concluded.

Assistant Burien Police Chief Cole said patrol levels would stay about the same with annexation. However, officers responding to calls would be Burien police officers.

He said with annexation, it would be more likely that a police officer would respond to a non-emergency call in the middle of the night.

Cole added that the department would continue the White Center storefront deputy and would either split a school resource officer between Highline High and the Evergreen campus or assign a new officer to Evergreen.

Burien Councilmember Gerald Robison, a real estate attorney, strongly disputed a charge that North Highline property values would drop 35 percent with annexation to Burien,

Martin said Burien would not be able to control what the King County Housing Authority does with its property but could discourage the concentration of low income housing by zoning policies.

Chestine Edgar, a persistent annexation critic, asked Nelson if the state would bail out Burien if after the 10-year tax credit is over, Burien has serious financial problems because of annexation.

Edgar noted the Berk consultants assumed property values would increase by 2-4 percent in the area to help pay annexation costs. Homes values have gone down 19 percent, instead, Edgar added.

Nelson said she would expect Burien would lobby the legislature if needed. She said the Berk report factored in the recession and noted she expects the economy to improve.

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