Budget Analysis Hints At Possible Delay By Seattle In Annexing White Center

by Ralph Nichols

Twelve days after Burien annexed the southern part of unincorporated North Highline last April 1, the Seattle City Council adopted a resolution of intent to annex the remaining area including White Center.

The resolution also required Seattle’s city budget office to conduct an “in-depth analysis of revenues and one-time and on-going operation and maintenance costs associated with annexing the remaining unincorporated portion of North Highline.”

That study – “Analysis of the Potential Annexation of North Highline into the City of Seattle: A Report to the Seattle City Council” – prepared by the City Budget Office and the Office of Intergovernmental Relations was submitted to council members on Jan. 18.

The complete analysis – available here (PDF file) – appears to raise questions about whether Seattle will move toward annexing North Highline, at least anytime soon.

“After considering the findings of the attached report, the Mayor (Mike McGinn) believes that Seattle is better positioned to provide services to the residents and businesses in the area that is King County,” Beth Goldberg, director of the City Budget Office, wrote in a transmittal letter to Richard Conlin, president of the Seattle City Council.

“At the same time,” Goldberg cautioned, “the City’s current and future financial reality, as presented in the attached analysis and as discussed in the development of the 2011 and 2012 budgets, make the decision to annex difficult to contemplate at this time.

“The data in the report indicates that an affirmative decision to annex will come with a financial cost to the City. The City simply does not have sufficient resources [and resource growth] to meet existing demands for its services and take on the new demands that the annexation would require.”

This is also stated in the report itself, which concludes, “At such time as the City’s finances are more robust, the Mayor would be interested in evaluating the issue.”

A major concern for Seattle is the uncertain future of federal and state funding for local governments. “As the State of Washington and the Federal government address their own budget challenges,” the report noted, “the City is likely going to see reductions that could have operational and financial implications in its services.”

Burien City Manager Mike Martin told The B-Town Blog, “We’re interested in the report, but we’re more interested in how the Seattle City Council reacts to it. It’s their move, not ours. The ball is in their court.”

The Seattle City Council is expected to review this report and decide what, if anything, to do in the next 60 days.

Even if Seattle decides to proceed with annexation at this time, it would not be a done deal unless North Highline residents were to vote to join the city to their north. And some area residents suggested that a ballot measure for annexation by Seattle would not be approved.

In early 2008, the Burien City Council designated all of North Highline a “potential annexation area.” The Seattle City Council responded a few weeks later, laying claim to the same area. Eventually, Burien advanced a memorandum of understanding between the city, Seattle and King County that proposed a solution to the competing annexation claims.

When Seattle didn’t sign the memorandum of understanding, Burien acted alone to put the annexation process into motion. But Burien did back away from annexing all of the unincorporated area, deciding instead to propose for the immediate future annexation of only the southern part of North Highline.

Voters in “south” North Highline approved annexation by Burien by a sizable margin in August 2009. A minority of unincorporated area residents wanted nothing to do with Burien, arguing that their property values would increase more if they became part of Seattle, which would also provide better services.

The Burien City Council subsequently decided to make certain this annexation was successful before considering annexing the remaining unincorporated area – and to wait as well to see what Seattle will do.

For now, the resulting uncertainty may leave unresolved any move toward merging the North Highline Fire Department with the Burien/Normandy Park Fire Department, and any expansion or rebuilding of King County libraries in White Center and Boulevard Park.

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