Seattle City Council members vote “no” on annexation-process agreement

After a lively discussion which we’ll recap shortly, Seattle City Council members have just voted 8 to 1 NOT to endorse the “memorandum of understanding” with Burien and two fire districts, regarding allowing Burien first rights to annex part of North Highline, and Seattle first rights on the other. Council President Richard Conlin said repeatedly that he believes the agreement is “falling apart at the executive level” – we will be checking on that. More shortly. ADDED 3:30 PM: A few more details – read on (including a comment from the Seattle mayor’s office, added 5:17 pm):

The meeting began with a suggestion by Conlin to just set the whole thing aside and not even vote on it today, but his colleagues disagreed, so they went ahead. They had one member of the public speaking first – Liz Giba from White Center, calling herself “one of 32,000 people who have been in limbo for quite a while,” said she believes the entire area that’s now unincorporated between Seattle and Burien city limits should go with Burien.

Some councilmembers were clear that their vote didn’t necessarily mean they were against any annexation – just that they are not in favor of this agreement, although West Seattle-residing Councilmember Tom Rasmussen made it clear he is not in favor of any annexation, and wanted to proceed with a vote today because “by placing it on hold, it keeps the whole question alive.” Conlin noted that the prospect would remain alive anyway because the city’s Comprehensive Plan lists a “potential annexation area” and that will remain in the plan unless that section is repealed at some point down the line. He also said his concerns with the agreement include the fact that Burien has already sought to amend it (by clarifying that a public vote would be required before any annexation could proceed). Rasmussen said, basically, Seattle just can’t afford to add more land and residents, “when we know we can’t meet all the needs of our neighborhoods now.”

Councilmember Sally Clark had a similar concern, although she also noted “the Roxbury boundary just doesn’t work.” Councilmember Tim Burgess showed charts that he said showed serious problems in fire coverage if the potential annexations proceeded per the areas laid out in the agreement. Councilmember Nick Licata said he’s concerned that something has to be done regarding the White Center area — or else the question of who provides services to WC people will be a “festering problem” — and he felt an obligation to figure out what that would be (Rasmussen disagreed, saying ultimately it’s the county and state’s responsibility, and he is troubled by the amount of resources the city is already spending on this issue, saying he was in a meeting with “three executive staff members who are working on annexation”).

Councilmember Jean Godden was the only person voting in favor of the memorandum of understanding, saying, “It’s keeping the door open (to future possibilities) … (White Center is) an exceptional area, it has young families and children .. If we were going to vote on annexation itself today I would say no, it’s not a good deal, but all we are doing is holding the door open so that maybe in two years a vote may be taken on this … and those may be good times. Remember, this is land, everybody, and we just don’t have people manufacturing (land) any more. It has some of the best views in the area.” She had made a comparison to arguments that could have been made against annexing Ballard a century ago, and said White Center could turn out “to be another Sunset Hill.” Conlin in the end recommended a no vote because he believed Burien had not been forthcoming in terms of the deal, including supporting legislation to make sure Seattle could get sales-tax money to support an annexation, although he also added “I think Seattle should be considering annexing the WHOLE area, but at this point, I’m going to recommend going back to the drawing boards regarding what we’re going to do next.”

And with that, only Godden voted in favor of endorsing the agreement, with her 8 colleagues voting against it. We have messages out to Burien and Seattle city leadership regarding what happens next.

5:17 PM UPDATE: Haven’t heard back from Burien yet; from Seattle, mayoral spokesperson Alex Fryer says: “The MOU with Burien took some time, but we had an agreement that made sense for all the parties. With the City Council decision today, we’re done with the issue for this year. As Deputy Mayor (Tim) Ceis said: ‘There are no do-overs’.”

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10 Responses to “Seattle City Council members vote “no” on annexation-process agreement”

  1. It’s so nice to know that we are just considered “land” by Council member Godden.

    I like the comments by others regarding our services needs!

    Conlin’s concerns with the agreement with the fact that Burien has already sought to amend it (by clarifying that a public vote would be required before any annexation could proceed is a concern to me, why would he be so concerned about our right to vote on such a major issue? Sounds like he has alternate plans of trying to annex with out a vote by the people.

  2. I have said it before, but it remains the single overriding issue in this entire annexation process: White Center/North Highline would have ten times the representational clout and bargaining power as 50 percent of Burien than it would have as 5 percent of Seattle.

    For those who continue to insist that Burien could never provide the services that WC/NH needs, and that Seattle could, I say that’s a lot of bunk.

    (1) Maybe Seattle *could* provide the needed services, but *would* it, with so many other older, better organized, and more well-entrenched communities competing for those services?

    (2) The 1st Avenue South corridor, both in NH and Burien, is arguably the single most underdeveloped commercial area in King County, and as such is a potential revenue gold mine for Burien, should Burien do the smart thing and annex all of NH.

    (3) If that were to happen, WC/NH, as 50 percent of Burien, would be in a commanding position to bargain for needed services out of the increase in business tax revenue once 1st Avenue South became more developed, and family wage jobs for the community came with that development.

    (4) Why couldn’t an organized WC/NH elect a majority of members on the Burien City Council, and ensure that outcome? Does anybody seriously believe that WC/NH could get even one member elected to the Seattle City Council?

    Think long term, and the case for WC/NH going to Burien is overwhelming.

  3. Maybe North Highline should incorporate. Then we would have ALL of the “representational clout.” We have a population as large as Burien’s.

    Realistically, neither Burien or Seattle can afford us right now in this current economy. Tell me why it’s impossible. I drive through downtown White Center every day, and I’m seeing new businesses on a regular basis. I have a lot of hope for this community. Maybe we don’t need Seattle or Burien.

  4. Valkyrie:

    Wrong, sorry.

  5. Realistically why not think NH incorporate many of old timers feel it is possible? Just to many unknowns with Seattle or Burien. Our community is not a grab bag to take what Burien or Seattle wants.

  6. Valkyrie and Dick,
    When the North Highline Governance Studies were done, the majority of the people in North Highline favored incorporation over annexation. The big problem with incorporating is that there would a seven million dollar yearly shortfall in revenue for operating expenses a yearly shortfall of over three million for capital costs should North Highline become its own city. If North Highline were to incorporate, property and other taxes would have to be raised to cover this $10 million a year shortfall. How willing do you think the people of North Highline would be to vote for incorporating the area knowing they will have to pay significantly higher taxes than they pay now?

  7. Thank you for the link Alcina. I’m sure you are much better versed in the history of annexation than I, as I am fairly new to North Highline.

    I did read the NHUAC information about the costs. I wonder if those costs are still accurate, considering it was done almost four years ago. Also, if North Highline did decide to incorporate, wouldn’t it also qualify for the tax credit from Olympia to off-set the deficits in incorporating? Is King County still offering 10 million to the area that incorporates? Wouldn’t North Highline qualify for this as well?

  8. Valkyrie,
    The state sales tax credit is only available to cities which annex, not for areas wanting to incorporate. The way it is written, the cities get the rebate on the sales and use tax not only in the area they annex but also for sales and use tax in their exsisting city boundaries.

    So, if an area wanting to incorporate wanted a similar tax credit there would need to be new legislation written, sponsored and passed. A big problem with this, of course, as North Highline still wouldn’t get enough money to cover the incorporation budget shortfall if the percentage of the rebate was similar the current law, 0.2 percent. Various studies over the years have shown the taxable retail sales in North Highline to be somewhere around $130-$150 million. 0.2 percent of $150 million would result in a rebate of $300,000 a year. [For comparison purposes, in 2007 the City of Burien had taxable retail sales of $557 million.]

    Originally, King County did have $10 million in an annexation incentive fund, but as I understand it, this was only for annexations, not incorporations. Some cities have already received money from that fund, Renton received $1.7 million for their Benson Hill annexation and Auburn $1.25 million.

    Quite frankly, I’m not sure of the status of this funding, whether it still exists or if it all got cut out of the King County budget for this year.

    If anyone is reading this from the King County Annexation Initiative, or anyone else who has the answer, can you fill us in?

  9. The King County $10 million incentive fund for annexation is gone. It was diverted to KC Parks department.

  10. I guess that means $10 million less for Burien.