By Tracy Record
White Center Now editor
Burien City Manager Mike Martin has spoken countless times at North Highline Unincorporated Area Council meetings. Thursday night, however, each word seemed to carry added weight – not just because of additional scrutiny (a TV camera was rolling), but because this was the last NHUAC meeting until voters in the area decide whether to join his city or not.
So here’s how the meeting unfolded:
ANNEXATION VOTE – THE BURIEN VIEW: Martin started with something of a valedictory as the annexation-vote endgame approached – “the good fight is worth fighting for its own reasons regardless of the outcome.” He cited a “task list that would start .. the day after the vote … We’re ready to go, and ready to move swiftly.” He said he “transmitted my strong hope that the county can move as swiftly as Burien can.” (Negotiations on that “move” would happen after the election, Martin said.) If North Highline residents vote to annex, he promised to talk with NHUAC and citizens “a lot … to make sure our plans include everything that needs to get done.” He would hope for implementation around April 1st, saying “it seems fast … but we had an August vote (last time) and were prepared to (finalize it) in February” aside from one last-minute snag that erupted. “I really look forward to having this area as part of Burien,” he said.
Martin also noted that Burien’s finalizing its next budget on November 5th – next Monday -and insisted that his city is in good financial shape, refuting annexation opponents’ claims otherwise, and hoping to reduce the amount of supplementary “fund balance” it’s been using. He recapped the “radical rejiggering of revenue in this state” as a result of the recession and said cities will need 15 years to recover from it, though he contends Burien is “head and shoulders” above most of its counterparts, thanks to “small things” as well as bigger decisions.
What about the library situation? asked NHUAC president Barbara Dobkin. Martin said an “appropriate resolution to the library question” (the future of the White Center and Boulevard Park branches) is on his list too. She also asked Martin about various contentions that opponents have made, and various issues that have been raised. One was, which Burien business-advocacy group would represent the area if voters approve annexation and it takes effect? “It’s not about competing business districts, it’s about the synergy of having two business centers,” Martin noted, while saying the issue of who will advocate for who, on behalf of the city, has yet to be settled.
Elizabeth Gordon of White Center restaurant Uncle Mike’s Superlicious Barbecue rose to ask Martin questions. One was his prediction. He thinks it’s going to be close but “I really don’t know who’s going to win.” She also asked about services such as animal control. “Ours is a heck of a lot better than the county’s. A heck of a lot better,” he declared, with “a much higher level of service and a much lower cost.” NHUAC member Stephen Porter said that he has had his dog in the care of Burien’s service twice now and is happy with it.
Gordon also had asked about services for senior citizens and refugees, and Martin said that the former is “getting more active” while the latter would probably have to grow and evolve; he says the Burien council is “very committed to the diverse communities.” Her final question was about the Roxbury/16th intersection and how it’s affected by the marijuana businesses in the heart of White Center; Martin’s reply veered into whether statewide Initiative 502 would pass and what that would mean for city employees. (Right now, Burien does not allow dispensaries at all.)
Asked about claims that annexation would bring more bureaucracy to simple acts like cutting a tree at a person’s own home, another point annexation opponents have cited, Martin declared it “consummate b******t.”
KING COUNTY ROADS, THE TIERED SYSTEM: Jay Osborne returned to talk about the current situation with the county and how roads will be dealt with in the unincorporated areas. “In the county, we have a dedicated property tax that can only be spent on roads,” he explained. (He had made a presentation to NHUACback in xx.) It’s an “antiquated funding structure,” he declared – to deal with a system the county says would take $39 billion to build in today’s dollars and conditions. Road revenues have dropped about 20 percent in recent years, as the county gets less road tax and less gas tax.
As the county had said in the last briefing, they don’t have the money to care for the entire system, so they expect to close some roads and bridges in the years ahead. Right now, none in White Center are failing, he said – “you guys are lucky.” Some storm damage from previous years has not been repaired yet. They are working right now to look at where they will be able to plow if it snows: “In 2014 we will not plow any category 2 or 3 roadways” and they will only have the resources to plow half of category 1 roadways. (That means roads that are important for safety, he elaborated in response to a question later – saying that “in this area, that may only mean Roxbury and 16th get plowed.”)
“We are in the process of selling off a number of facilities, of properties we own … and we’re reducing service out there to balance the budget as we go forward,” he summarized.
He also said the road budget has lost some money to the King County Sheriff’s Office in the service of traffic enforcement, by decision of the King County Executive and Council. And he noted that the County Council could choose to propose a Transportation Benefit District fee and ask voters to approve it, though even a $20 fee countywide would raise only $4.5 million, while “our hole is $55 million.”
They will be asking the state for help. (But, one person in the audience asked, aren’t they having “the same money problems?” Osborne said the legislature would be mulling an excise tax that might help ease the problem – “if they have the political will.”
Will any roads really be left to revert to gravel? Dobkin asked. Osborne said the first are three roads in a rural area; in the future, “the pothole issue” would help determine a road’s fate.
Osborne says there might be a problem with the South Park Bridge – specifically with a caisson – when asked about its expected completion (fall 2013) – so “conversations” are happening now. In the meantime, he says, demolition of what remains of the old bridge is scheduled to start “soon.”
BOUNDARY REVIEW BOARD: Pat Price attended the recent Boundary Review Board meeting regarding the Duwamish Triangle annexation. She said the board will not deliberate until November 8th, hoping to hear by then how Burien annexation will turn out. She says that meeting will be held at Beverly Park School. It matters among other reasons because North Highline Fire District currently serves that area – which has “a big tax base,” as Dobkin noted.
TRANSPORTATION: The recent Metro bus changes are a concern here too, since White Center has been affected. There’s talk of setting up a focused discussion in the future.
The North Highline Unincorporated Area Council meets first Thursdays, 7 pm, North Highline Fire District HQ.