By Tracy Record
White Center Now editor
The second North Highline annexation-election info campaign has begun, with almost six months to go until the expected November vote.
This wasn’t technically a campaign event, in terms of pushing a particular point of view, but rather, Burien’s first “outreach” event this time around. Glen Acres Country Club played host; the meeting was not widely promoted, as the clubhouse there had only capacity for the with about three dozen people in attendance.
Standing in front of a sweeping wall of glass that ironically had a distant view of downtown Seattle – the city that had dibs on this area but chose not to pursue – Burien city manager Mike Martin (top photo) led the presentation – “You’re the very first public forum that we’ve having,” he told them, promising to offer “high-level remarks” but also focus on questions. Other Burien reps included Police Chief Scott Kimerer and city analyst Nhan Nguyen, who worked for White Center Community Development Association before joining the city last year.
Unveiled tonight was the new official FAQ/fact sheet regarding annexation and what it would be like if it is approved and implemented by the Burien City Council, likely to take effect, city manager Martin said, in spring 2013.
It does not appear to be online as of this writing, but includes these bullet points:
*2,045 acres proposed for annexation
*About 17,400 people (last census; 2010 numbers not crunched yet)
*White Center, Top Hat, Beverly Park, Glendale included, along with parts of Boulevard Park, Riverton Heights, and Shorewood
*Burien would take over North Shorewood, White Center Heights, Lakewood parks, while Steve Cox Memorial Park would stay with the county, as a regional facility
Many things don’t change, he said. So – he acknowledged, one big question – what DOES change?
“A very progressive governance in Burien .. would focus its attention on this area,” is one major thing.
Would Burien go to the Port of Seattle to have this area designated as a noise-abatement area, given that “planes fly so low through here … my son (a pilot) can pick out my garage door”? asked a woman. (Planes could be heard rumbling overhead now and then throughout the meeting.)
Martin’s answer boiled down to no, although he said some things can be addressed, such as “if they start flying really lousy patterns.”
Burien councilmember Jerry Robison (foreground in photo), who said he hadn’t come intending to speak but did end up answering more than a few questions, chimed in that while the noise situation isn’t under local control, things can be done “to make them be better neighbors.”
Chief Kimerer spoke next. “I hope we’re getting to a point where we have some resolution .. the story hasn’t changed regarding what would change with police services. Regarding what we’ve accomplished with the first annexation, I’ve heard very positive comments. … What we’re hoping, and what our plan is, is providing at least the same level of service provided out here with the Sheriff’s Office. I am going to take most of the people who work out here and they will be in a green uniform one day and a blue uniform the next.”
He said they would look forward to keeping the White Center storefront. But he said “being in a city, as opposed to being in a county,” gives law enforcers “more tools” to deal with problems – such as proposing ordinances. The bigger team he has since the previous annexation, he said, gave Burien PD a “bigger team” for “different strategies,” including a gang unit, undercover enforcement, the “Secret Squirrel stuff” that’s “really cool,” and more. Ultimately, they have a “lot of flexibility” in dealing with emerging trends, he said.
Next question – what about enforcement of “junk cars … in the right of way” and similar nuisances? asked an attendee, wondering if Burien would have more code-enforcement officers. That’s primarily a city staffing issue, the chief noted, while adding that his officers are “very aware” of those issues. Martin added that the city feels it’s “a quality of life issue that we can address.” Councilmember Robison also jumped into the discussion, noting that as a real-estate lawyer, he has been on both sides of such cases. He acknowledged that King County’s code-enforcement officer for this area “also covers Vashon Island, Skyway, and other areas,” while Burien’s officer has a much-smaller area to handle.
Martin then elaborated: “There are two schools of code enforcement … you go out and everything you see, you go after, or, you go after everything that is reported.”
Next question: If annexation is approved, will Burien reassess the property? Robison pointed out that cities don’t control assessments, the county does. “So your tax-assessed value would not change as a result of the annexation.” Martin took the occasion to point out that of your tax dollar, most of the money goes to the school district (currently >Highline Public Schools, which is how it would remain post-annexation), while only a small portion (12 cents) goes to the city. Robison suggested checking your annual property tax bill to see what part of the money goes where.
As noted on the FAQ/fact-sheet, your taxes/fees will go up about $90/year if you have a residence worth $200,000, said Martin. It was clarified in response to another question, that none of the increase results from the school district (one man pointed out that there are no kids at Glen Acres, so “what’s in it (school tax) for me?”) – the area remains in the Highline Public Schools district, annexed or not annexed. Martin took the occasion to counter that there is “something in it” for everyone, parents or not – “human capital.”
One difference: Burien has a business-and-occupation tax, while the county does not. Would the Glen Acres clubhouse pay that? Councilmember Robison pointed out some exceptions, such as, no tax on alcohol sales. Membership fees don’t count either, he said. Martin promised more research on some of the specifics that would apply to Glen Acres.
“Would this change our address from Seattle to Burien?” Martin’s reply: “Yes and no, no and no … you can put Seattle on it and it will still get to you, but your correct city would be Burien.”
Is there an option to stay unincorporated? it was asked. “It is possible …” said Martin. “There is nothing that compels residents to be part of any city … but I’ll tell you something: What you’ve seen in the last couple years is a gradual decline in the amount of money the county is able to put into areas like this … and it’s getting worse and worse. It’s not doom and gloom, it’s just a fact; if the County Executive was standing here with me, he’d agree. … Once that decline starts, it’s very difficult to get on top of. Roads, once they get to a certain lack of maintenance, are (more expensive to fix/restore).”
He said he fears that if it stays unincorporated, “this area right on our border will be neglected … Remaining in unincorporated King County for another five years is not going to be pretty.”
Asked about crime rates, Chief Kimerer said there’s an index which shows 53 per thousand for Burien, 62 per thousand for Seattle – overall, he said, there’s no “vast difference” in crime rates, and overall, Burien crime has been going down; the index used to be 75, he said.
He also was asked about traffic enforcement, and whether the city would ever have a dedicated traffic-enforcement officer. According to the chief, all the officers are trained in radar, and traffic becomes part of many people’s jobs. “Burien PD does write traffic tickets,” affirmed Robison. “Particularly in school zones.” Traffic-calming measures also were mentioned.
Other questions included property values and building codes. Will Burien’s procedures be cheaper/more streamlined? Martin said he believes his city is “head and shoulders over the county” in terms of process.
Counties, he reminded everyone, are not “built” to handle urban services. “I’m not telling you that we’re going to come in and the world is going to change,” he said, but a city is better suited to serve residents’ needs.
How’s the previous annexation going? one attendee then asked.
It’s been more than 2 years now, Martin began his answer – 14,000 residents brought in $550,000 state sales-tax credit. He said Burien didn’t add any more staff, though it did add some police officers. “We went through this whole rancorous process, but when we actually did it, it was like shouting into the Grand Canyon, it was great, and I think people are satisfied and happy,” he said.
Chief Kimerer said for his department, “it was seamless”; they added 13 officers, and the crime rate went down. As he acknowledged, the previous annexation area is residential, no businesses, unlike this one. “It’s been really a deafening silence,” he said. Councilmember Robison said, “I haven’t heard any complaints.”
Martin pointed out that because of a Seattle lobbying effort, this annexation would bring the city 10 times the sales-tax-credit revenue, though he quickly added, “this will be a more complex annexation … we’re going to be adding more staff and planners and code enforcement … it’s going to take about two years for everything to settle down.”
Then came the thorny subject of animal control (as discussed at the last North Highline Unincorporated Area Council meeting). Martin said he’s proud of his decision to terminate the relationship with King County’s animal control and believes there’s a higher level of service now. He said he doesn’t know the current euthanasia rate; however, he said, animal control “is a discretionary function. He said the newest stats will be available next month in a report, though “if our euthanasia rates are higher than the county, I’m good with that.”
What about coyotes? asked a woman.
Martin said he could relate because, when he lived in Auburn, he lost his dog to a coyote. If there is a problem animal, he said, they get state Fish and Wildlife to come out – “they have people specially trained to trap and shoot them.”
He was asked about urban-renewal projects, and mentioned the Burien plan to move auto dealers over to a particular area north of the third runway, to reclaim commercial land that auto businesses had been using elsewhere, particularly on downtown 1st Avenue.
Robison said that with annexation, Burien would hope to encourage more development beyond the current heart of Burien – Top Hat and White Center, for example – and “build this up so we don’t have vacant tracts and empty buildings sitting around.”
Before rezoning, Martin promised, “we’re going to ask – ‘what’s your vision?’ Then it becomes your obligation to tell people what you want, to participate.”
Resident Bob Price said he considers annexation “a chance to take care of your own destiny.”
“Bob is right,” said Martin. “There’s a choice here.”
And there’s more information – at burienwa.gov/annexation, or answers to questions if you e-mail email@example.com. Watch for word of the next meeting.