Proposed annexation area of North Highline to Burien is seen in the red-slashed zone.
Burien city manager thanks NHUAC for support of annexation, strikes at naysayer arguments
In the last North Highline Unincorporated Area Council meeting on Nov. 1 before final ballots are cast to approve or decline annexation to Burien, City Manager Mike Martin thanked the NHUAC for their support of annexation and responded to claims being made by those against the measure.
“I wanted to acknowledge all the work that has gone into this campaign and as you know, I wouldn’t be standing here unless our council supported this, and I really applaud you for fighting the good fight,” Martin said to the NHUAC board.
“I really applaud you folks for staying to the high ground and this is a very important policy decision and as a public servant I very much regret some of the information that is out there that some people are using to make their decision.”
Before going into anti-annexation claims, Martin said the city is internally preparing for annexation in the event that it passes, including an “extensive task list” of transition talks with King County. He said Burien hopes to move quickly with a yes vote, and annexation could be implemented by April of 2013.
We asked Mark Ufkes with Independent White Center (an anti-annexation political action committee, referred to as “IWC” from here on out) to respond to the topics discussed in a follow-up interview.
Will North Highline businesses have to change their signs to comply with Burien code?
“Any sign that is up and legal in King County can remain up and will remain up in Burien … it’s called grandfathering,” Martin said. “If somebody new comes in and buys the business or if you change it from a restaurant to a bookstore, then the new codes kick in and at that time we have a really easy sign code, it’s not that hard.”
Codes on signs can be found here: https://burienwa.gov/DocumentView.aspx?DID=362
In a flyer on annexation, IWC claims “Burien will add additional regulations and enforce new Burien ordinances, such as … what kind of signs you can have on your business.”
Ufkes said he is suspect of Martin’s grandfathering claim. “Anytime you bring another layer of government into a neighborhood you can expect changes and I don’t believe Burien is going to ignore the laws they have on the books now.”
The big tax discrepancy
The City of Burien estimates the average North Highline homeowner will see property taxes raise $140 a year. In flyers distributed to the community and at annexation information meetings, IWC claims an “Anticipated tax increase of $450 per year, per household.” That $310 dollar difference has been a source of confusion for some voters.
In response to the higher anti-annexation number, Martin said “I don’t know what to tell you except this is wrong and untrue.”
Ufkes said the number is based on IWC’s assumption that Burien will have to raise taxes over time to cushion the blow of the economic downturn and the loss of tax revenue from dropping property values.
“The important thing is, we are looking down the road four or five years, and the people who are screaming, ‘Oh look, it is only $140 dollars,’ they are looking at next year,” said Ufkes.
IWC flyers and promotional materials with the $450 figure do not explain the number is a projection of rising taxes over future years.
Two business districts; will they have to compete?
NHUAC President Barbara Dobkin asked Martin if the downtown Burien business district (along around around S.W. 152nd St.) and White Center district (along and around 16th Ave S.W.) will have to compete for attention and support from the city.
“I can tell you that there is no bureaucratic inclination to treat one better or differently than the other,” Martin said. “I have a high level of interest in trying to figure out how we can get the most synergy out of having two business districts that offer very distinct types of shopping opportunities …”
Ufkes did not directly dispute Martin’s statement, but painted the scenario of what would happen if North Highline residents took a majority of seats in the seven-member Burien city council.
“In the first city election, there are going to be four seats on the city council. If White Center residents organize and take all four of those Burien seats … you watch how aggressive the downtown Burien business community will be to organize” (in an attempt to fight over investment).
An audience member at the NHUAC meeting asked Martin if he would have to contact the City of Burien before he did some fall pruning on trees at his home, based on the statement from Ufkes in an opinion article that stated, “Did you know that Burien … has a $206 tree-pruning permit? Burien staff can come to your house and inspect the tree too.”
Martin said the notion that homeowners have to call before trimming trees on their property is “a wonderful myth that is so far-fetched,” and that the city does not go out looking for people who are trimming their trees or cutting their lawn.
According to the City of Burien website, “For developed, private lots, tree removal and pruning require a permit if the property is located within a critical area (steep slope, stream or wetland area, erosion hazard area or seismic hazard area).”
Elizabeth Gordon from Uncle Mike’s Superlicious BBQ in White Center asked Martin if senior, immigrant or low-income services could suffer funding losses if North Highline becomes part of Burien.
Martin said Burien has an active senior program and added, “We don’t have the same refugee population (as North Highline)– we do have some but it is different – we are going to have to explore a little bit with that one but we have no reason to believe that outside agencies who are currently (providing services) are going to go away. Just because the territory changes … we don’t think that is going to necessarily diminish the bottom line.”
Martin was referring to non-profit groups such as the White Center Community Development Association and White Center Food Bank, reiterating his stance that they will continue to receive county, state and federal funding for their programs.
Ufkes said he is concerned that any funding coming into White Center from Seattle will cease if it becomes part of Burien, citing the “Only in Seattle” grant program he said the WCCDA benefits from.
We have contacted the WCCDA for clarification on any funding changes if annexation goes through, but have not heard back.
On the flipside, tiered roads concerns in King County
After Martin finished his remarks at the NHUAC meeting, King County Road Services Manager Jay Osborne spoke about budget struggles for the county’s department of transportation and lowered levels of service as a result.
The county is implementing a five-tier system of service levels (http://www.kingcounty.gov/transportation/kcdot/Roads/NewServiceLevels.as...) and the majority of North Highline roads (with the exception of major thoroughfares including Roxbury, 16th Ave S.W., S.W. 108th St., 4th Ave S.W and 1st Ave S.) are Tier 5. Tier 5 roads “Will receive virtually no storm and snow response. Maintenance will be limited and based on factors such as life safety and risk, resulting in a growing number of deteriorating roads. Users can expect to see some closures, which may result in longer detours and difficulty accessing property. These roads may also be downgraded to a gravel surface, restricted to one lane, and have load limits and lower speed limits,” according to the county.
In an opinion article from NHUAC President Barbara Dobkin and NHUAC member Liz Giba in favor of annexation, they state, “Under this program, 36 miles of North Highline roads will not receive any maintenance or repairs, resulting in deterioration of our residential roads.”
At the meeting, Dobkin asked Osborne to discuss the reality of North Highline roads becoming gravel if the area remains part of unincorporated King County.
“That’s hard to say, and the reason that it is hard to say is the engineering decisions around how you deal with that and how you make that decision,” Osborne said. “It is hard to say whether it would be five years, 10 years, 20 years until that starts to happen (in North Highline)."
Osborne said the decision is based on potholes. If the cost to repair potholes that pose a safety hazard become to great, roads could be converted to gravel down the line.