FOLLOWUP: Burien City Council Puts North Highline Annexation on Nov. Ballot

by Ralph Nichols

Burien City Council members were expected to decide at their April 2 meeting whether to place the proposed annexation of unincorporated North Highline on the Aug. 7 primary election ballot.

An anticipated alternative was that they would delay a decision until June and then consider placing it on the November general election ballot.

Instead, they voted 4-3 to place the annexation question before unincorporated North Highline voters in the Nov. 6 election.

Mayor Brian Bennett, Deputy Mayor Rose Clark, and Council members Joan McGilton and Gerald Robison voted to proceed with the annexation election.

Casting ‘No’ votes were Council members Jack Block Jr., Bob Edgar and Lucy Krakowiak.

The change in timing was made after Bennett, stating that he favored proceeding with an election on annexation, offered an amendment to schedule it instead for November.

That amendment passed 6-1. Earlier an effort by Block to table the annexation question was defeated 4-3.

Under state law, only residents of unincorporated North Highline will vote on whether to become part of Burien.

Council remarks in favor
During council discussion on the issue, McGilton – who until recently served as mayor and, as presiding officer, offered few comments about annexation – said “I support annexation because it brings two diverse communities together. They’ve been separate long enough….

“The thing that really impresses me is that Burien is in the midst of change. The community that’s opposed to change has not seen things like that as a good thing. They would not like annexation to go forward, but it will.”

Firing back at “many misstatements” by annexation opponents over the past year, McGilton said that contrary to their claims, “the Boundary Review Board put together a very detailed analysis” of the proposed North Highline annexation.

That analysis, she continued, “speaks to the legitimacy of Burien and its consultants,” including Berk Associates.

And the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council does not represent just a small number of residents, McGilton noted. “It actually is part of the King County unincorporated area councils” that provide citizens outside of city limits with a voice on matters of local importance.

Robison charged that “a small handful of people are throwing out a lot of disinformation” in their opposition to annexation. But “annexation is the right thing for the City of Burien, the right thing for the people of Burien, the right thing for the people of North Highline.

“It would be irresponsible for us as a city council not to give the people of North Highline the opportunity to vote on this issue.”

Noting that “North Highline is really part of Burien,” Robison added “the city has already expanded once south and once north. This would complete expansion to the original city” area before Burien incorporated in 1993.

He also restated his contention that annexation is in the best long-term economic interests of Burien, including the ability finally to rein in multi-family residential development in the unincorporated area – which King County still allows.

“I’m 100 percent convinced it’s the financially responsible thing to do. It will benefit Burien more than it will benefit North Highline.”

Recalling past hot-button issues in the city, including rebuilding SW 152nd St. and creating Town Square, Clark said, “In the past we have made progress despite controversy. We have remained a fiscally responsible city,” with “fiscally responsible management” by staff.

“The first annexation [of “south” North Highline] has proved to be a good decision for the City of Burien,” Clark observed. “I believe with this annexation Burien will move forward and I want to see Burien move forward.”

April 1 marked the second anniversary of “south” North Highline formally becoming part of Burien after voters there approved annexation in a 2009 election.

Council remarks against
Block countered that “North Highline is a wonderful place. I hope that someday, someday, it is part of Burien. But now is not that time.

“What we’re doing now is signing a contract without negotiating the terms,” which will leave Burien with “no leverage” in future discussions with the state and county.

Claims that Seattle will annex North Highline is Seattle doesn’t are a “red herring,” Block added. He also suggested that voters there would reject annexation by Seattle.

Declaring that “I have an ethical responsibility and a moral responsibility to the citizens of Burien,” Block said, “I will vote no as my responsibility to the City of Burien.”

Disagreeing strongly with McGilton’s assessment of the green light for annexation, Krakowiak said “the Boundary Review Board made its decision [to allow Burien to proceed on incomplete information.”

Krakowiak called annexation a “financially irresponsible” move, and questioned claims by some council members that an agreement between the Burien/Normandy Park and North Highline fire departments over contract issues is close to resolution.

“I am still opposed to annexation and will be a no vote,” she declared.

The city council already has “more than enough to keep us busy,” Edgar said, including issues like storm water management and capital improvement issues, without dealing with annexation.

“The [annexation] sales tax credit is not a sure thing,” Edgar argued. Not only is there no guarantee it will still be in place after two or three years, but even if it remains on the books “the city will not be able to pay for annexation” when the credit expires in 10 years.

State law currently grants a sales tax credit to cities that annex adjacent populated areas. If Burien annexes North Highline, the city currently is scheduled to receive $5 million in sales tax credits for 10 years to help pay transition costs.

Public comment against
During public comment earlier in the meeting, nine persons spoke in favor of annexation and three in opposition.

Chestine Edgar said 13 studies over the past decade have shown annexation “won’t pan out financially. It’s not a financially sound idea for Burien in the long run.”

Claiming that “it’s obvious that many people who cite the Berk report [analyzing the proposed annexation for the city] haven’t read it,” Edgar also called the proposed move “a violation of Burien’s comprehensive plan.”

Robbie Howell said “Burien can’t afford to meet its own needs, let alone another area’s too. I feel very sad about the city of Burien.

“Now [City Manager] Mike Martin is instigating a huge Kids and Cops utility tax. He has to get money from somewhere.”

“All the data I see on annexation is that annexation is fiscally irresponsible,” Roger Delorum said. “Someone will benefit financially and it’s not Burien.”

Public comment for
But, countered Doug Harold, “as a Burien resident and business owner, I’m urging you to move forward. This is the only opportunity Burien will have to expand and I believe there are opportunities of scale in that.”

Boulevard Park resident Sandra Huff, who was annexed into Burien two years ago, said “I wasn’t for it. But I’m happy that I’m in Burien now. The bigger the footprint Burien has on the map, the more area we will have to work with.”

Burien Planning Commission member Joey Martinez said “annexation comes down to what is best for Burien, for North Highline, for the Highline School District….”

“While Burien “incorporated because we wanted to control our own destiny … now we are potentially willing to let [Seattle] control our destiny.”

Ed Dacey suggested that annexing the North Highline commercial area “will get us more reliant on the sales tax … I urge [the council] to put it to a vote and get on.”

What Happens Next?
According to Burien Public Information Officer Steve Botkin, Burien will plan “an extensive annexation-related outreach campaign including a number of open house informational sessions conducted in the proposed annexation area.

“Watch the City’s website at for dates and more information about the open houses….

“The annexation area includes White Center, Top Hat, Beverly Park, Glendale, and portions of Boulevard Park, Riverton Heights and Shorewood…. If approved by a majority of voters, the annexation would most likely take effect in 2013….

“The annexation would increase the population of Burien by about 17,300 and add 3.2 square miles to the City. Burien’s total population would increase to approximately 65,000 residents, making it the 15th largest city in Washington.”

A Brief History
The city council approved on Oct. 3 a Notice of Intent to Annex the remaining unincorporated area between Burien and Seattle, which came after several months of lengthy hearings and discussions, including hours of testimony from consultants and local residents.

That measure was approved by a 5-2 vote. Since then, however, Edgar defeated then-Councilman Gordon Shaw, another strong advocate for the proposed action, in last November’s election.

Burien’s notice of intent was submitted to the King County Boundary Review Board, established by the Growth Management Act, which held a public hearing on the matter on Jan. 9-10.

The Boundary Review Board approved the proposed annexation on Feb. 16, noting in part:

The next step is for the City Council to pass a resolution confirming the Board’s decision and requesting that King County set an election date, which could be in August or November 2012.

The City Council is waiting for the state Legislature to approve a state budget before requesting an election.

The Council has indicated it will not proceed with the annexation if the current state tax credit that helps cities provide services to newly annexed areas tax credit is reduced or eliminated from the state budget.

While the Legislature, now meeting in special session, has yet to adopt a final revised budget for the remainder of this fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2013, all indications from both legislators involved in writing that budget and officials from cities that receive the annexation sales tax credit are that it is secure for now.

Even if the annexation is approved by North Highline voters, the city still retains the option of delaying formal annexation if circumstances make that necessary.

The proposed annexation of remaining unincorporated North Highline was a volatile issue even before Burien lawmakers again raised the question in March 2011 – after the Seattle City Council backed away from the once-contested area.

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