Impassioned Crowd Packs White Center School for Lively Annexation Debate
It depends on which side you listen to whether Burien will go broke annexing North Highline’s Area Y or whether staying unincorporated will mean that Seattle will gobble up the 17,000 residents of the area or, even if left alone, it will sink into county’s own budget morass.
Upwards of 60 people attended our lively South King Media annexation forum at White Center Heights School on Tuesday night to hear supporters and opponents of a ballot measure on whether Burien should annex White Center and other areas of the North Highline Unincorporated Area. The Nov. 6 measure will be voted on only by residents of the area.
Burien resident Debi Wagner, vocal opponent of the annexation, said the area should “vote no on annexation, retain your independence.” Not joining with Burien doesn’t mean “you will be forced to join Seattle, noting the region can simply stay under county rule, something supporters of the ballot measure dispute.
Wagner said the vote “is about whether to pay over $400 more a year to Burien in taxes and fees” because annexation to Burien “will increase and add seven new Burien taxes or fees for residents and businesses – B and O (Business and Occupation) taxes, property taxes, utility, cable taxes, permit fees, underground wire and fire levies with no increase in services for residents of Area Y (the unincorporated area between Seattle and Burien city limits).
She suggested Burien land use and zoning will negatively impact area neighborhoods.
“Burien has parking tickets and requires permits to trim your trees. Burien does not have the money to provide more services that what is currently provided by King County so no increase in police or fire” and that sales tax credits will only cover the cost of police service.
In addition, Wagner claimed, “Burien does not have $77 million needed to improve and maintain roads, sidewalks or parks.”
“Human services, such as refugee and job services, homeless and senior services through the CDA (White Center Community Development Association) will be reduced or eliminated. King County Animal Control and medical marijuana dispensaries will be eliminated. If you join Burien, you will get no added services or representation for your increased taxes.”
The other annexation opponent on the panel, Mark Ufkes of White Center said flatly, “Burien is going broke now. Burien had to dip into its reserve fund to make payroll this year. There is not going to be any increase in police and fire services and we are going to pay considerably more taxes.”
BURIEN ‘NOT BROKE’
Burien city council member Jerry Robison said, contrary to Ufkes’ comments, “the city of Burien is not going broke. The city council decided this year there is a structural deficit of property tax revenues which represents about 5 percent of the city’s budget and the city chose to spend some of its reserves rather than to cut services or raise taxes.”
Robison, who said he was at the meeting as a private citizen and not as a council member, disputed Wagner’s assertion that it would cost $77 million to maintain roads, sidewalks and parks.
“There is a $77 million estimate, somewhere, for the capital improvement plan,” Robison said. “Burien has a capital improvement plan (that is) the wish list we make if we get the money to do. It doesn’t mean that your roads are falling apart. It doesn’t mean that your are going to spend it all right now.”
Annexation supporter Barbara Dobkin, President of the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council, said that prior to the 2010 annexation of the southern part of the unincorporated area, King County did a study to look into government options for North Highline.
“Given the option of Burien or Seattle, most people in North Highline preferred Burien as the annexation choice. After reviewing the information about services offered and taxes collected by Burien and Seattle, the North Highline Council voted 10 to 2 to recommend Burien as the annexation choice.
“With continued study of the annexation options, we still stand by our original recommendation that the community would be better served by Burien,” Dobkin said. “We will have better representation in Burien. We will have a say in our future, in our growth. Our services will stay the same. We have along history with our neighbors to the south. We share schools, libraries, shares deputies and numerous other services. You will hear a lot of things tonight but there are some very basic issues that cannot be disputed.”
Wagner said, “It is a myth that the citizens of Area Y want annexation in the majority. This study that Ms. Dobkin referred to was the Nesbitt report finalized in 2006 and it stated for both Area X and Area Y their first choice was to remain with King County.”
She said the Nesbitt report indicated a lot of respondents had no idea “where in the area they were living.”
North Highline Council president Dobkin said it is known the area is not of sufficient size or depth incorporate as a separate city and staying unincorporated is not an option.
“Because King County does not have the same taxing authority that cities do, they are not in the position to fund services to unincorporated areas like North Highline so while we wait to annex we face drastic cuts to our roads, fire and pubic safety,” Dobkin said.
SEATTLE MAY BE LURKING
She said Seattle has had many opportunities to put annexation to a vote but in March 2011 the city put annexation on hold.
“But they have not taken us out of their comprehensive plan. It is conceivable that if we do not annex to Burien, we could end up in Seattle without a vote as the county may pressure the state for legislation to make this possible. It is only a matter of time before we are part of a city.”
Dobkin and Robison said several times at the meeting that the only place where reliable and balanced facts will be presented will be at the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council forum Thursday night. That forum appears not to have opponents of annexation on its panel, but will include “Washington State, King County, and Burien City representatives, who will be on hand to provide information, and answer your questions about this important issue that will be on the Nov. 6 ballot.”
After Wagner suggested again that Burien was broke, Robison repeated that the city wasn’t broke and that Wagner “represents the bulk of the opposition and the noisiest opposition to annexation. I see a number of people in the audience that are the same half dozen or so people who have shown up at city council meetings for years opposing annexation – people who are afraid that somehow annexing this area is going to pollute Burien and somehow ruin it,” Robison said.
“I talk to a lot of people in Burien and the majority of people I talk to welcome the annexation. There are legitimate concerns about finances but those have been covered and that a smoke screen that has been thrown up.”
He added that that the difference in taxes between the county and Burien is less than $100 per household a year.
“King County is going broke and King County does not have the money for urban services,” Robison said.
RATHER STAY UNINCORPORATED
Greg Duff, another from the audience, said it was “pretty clear” the county does not intend to keep unincorporated heavily populated areas.
“By hook or by crook, they are going to get out of it,” he said. “If you think you can stay unincorporated, I’m sorry, it’s not going to happen – it is a fantasy.”
During that first annexation campaign, in 2010, Duff headed the North Highline Unincorporated Council, and said he listened to Ufkes and Wagner and “the whole group saying how the first annexation was going to bankrupt Burien, how our taxes were going to up, how bad it was. You know what? It didn’t happen. I am only two houses inside Burien and I am very glad I am. Now we are hearing the same thing all over again. It is a scare tactic.
“If you think your taxes are going to go up a whole lot in Burien, wait until you get to Seattle… because you are not going to stay with King County,” Duff said.
Others suggested there are no laws requiring the area be annexed to a city, and that grants now going to some agencies from Seattle would stop if the area were in Burien. Also the millions of dollars spent by King County “to clean us up” would not be available from Burien.
Long-time White Center resident Bill Banks said most people he knew didn’t want to be a part of either Burien or Seattle.
“But, over the past 10 years… Burien has improved a lot (while) the City of Seattle is crowding a lot (with) those skinny houses” which are not something he wants near him.
Banks added that he has learned that the way people “get you to vote no is to scare the hell out of you” or to tell you things that worry you.
Chestine Edgar, a Burien resident, suggested that the so-called Berk Report, done for Burien, was “financially incorrect” and did not take into account the loss of value of property “by minus 19 percent last year and another (minus) 14 percent” this year in Area Y. Annexation, despite what Burien says, “is not going to be revenue neutral. There are going to be significant finances missing because of those revenues have dropped. Automatically, Burien does not get $5 million (a year from a state sales tax reimbursement), it must meet a specific formula.”
A man in the audience worried about animal control in the area if annexed by Burien. He said he has been told that if he finds a stray in the unincorporated area, he can take it to King County Animal Control but if he is in Burien CARES will charge him $100 to leave it with them.
“How are people in White Center going to feel about losing King County Animal Control because I certainly feel that King County Animal Control is a much superior service?”
NOTE: To listen to an MP3 audio file of the entire forum, click here.