Seattle Council president on annexation: You should decide

Tonight at the 34th District Democrats‘ meeting in West Seattle, guests included Seattle City Council president Richard Conlin. During Q&A, Dr. Arun Jhaveri asked Conlin about the status of potential White Center annexation. Here’s exactly how Conlin answered:

“The Council has adopted a Comprehensive Plan policy that says we are open to the annexation of that area. We have not been able to come to agreement with the city of Burien on how that’s going to work, and unfortunately the Legislature has approved a sales tax credit if Burien annexes … it’s structured so that it doesn’t apply to cities over 40,000 population … The problem is, (for Seattle to annex) we would need to have some kind of credit. The important thing from my perspective is that people in that area should have the right to make the decision on where they want to go, Burien or Seattle.”

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66 Responses to “Seattle Council president on annexation: You should decide”

  1. Having looked in on this string after a couple of weeks I feel compelled to comment on a number of things that have been published here.

    There seems to be a lot of confusion about the roles of the various special districts that serve North Highline (NH). These include the water, sewer, fire and school.

    The water districts are, as the name implies, responsible for water service. Many people in White Center get their water from the City of Seattle due to a decision made about 30 years ago to dissolve Water District 61 and turn its assets over to the Seattle Water Department. The Seattle water department is part of Seattle’s Public Works Department. The remaining residents of NH are served by their local Water District. Each water district is run by a board of commissioner elected by the voters in the district. Annexation to Seattle would mean the end of the the local water districts, as Seattle would take over their assets (water mains, etc.) in the annexed area. Water District 45 would disappear completely. Water District 20 would lose so much of its assets (particularly its reservoirs) that it would no longer be a viable district. Annexation to Seattle would probably also mean slightly higher water rates as rates in Seattle are controlled by the City and raise revenues for more than just the maintenance of a clean and safe water supply. Annexation to Burien would mean no change, as Burien would allow the districts to continue as they are.

    Sewer Districts. NH is served by two sewer districts. As with the water districts, these districts are run by a locally elected board of commissioners. If the area is annexed to Seattle, the city would take over the sewer district assets in the annexed area (mains, pump stations, etc.). In the area served by Southwest Suburban (which has its own sewage treatment plants) the City would probably contract with the District as it did when it annexed the arbor heights area. In the Arbor Heights area (south of Roxbury, west of Seola Beach/30th SW) the City pays the District a flat rate per customer handle the sewage then charges homeowners the same rate homeowners pay elsewhere in the City (which averages about three times the rate the District charges to homeowners). On average, customers in NH could expect to see their sewer bills double or triple (Seattle bases the rate on water usage, the districts charge a flat rate, so some homeowners might see lower rates [if they have a very low rate of water use] most would see rates double or triple [based on average water use] and some [gardeners] would see even larger increases in their rates. Annexation to Burien would have no effect on the sewer districts or rates.

    Fire District. Also controlled by a locally elected board of commissioners. At present the Fire District is supported by local taxes (including payments received under contract from the City of Burien for coverage provided in the part of the District that was included in the original incorporation of Burien). Annexation to Seattle would mean dissolution of the District. Instead of the locally controlled board the District would come under the control of the Seattle City Council. The local property tax levy would disappear into Seattle’s general tax levy. Funding, staffing, equipment, station improvements (or even continued existence) of local fire fighting assets would be controlled by the Seattle Fire Department. The effect of annexation to Burien is harder to say at this time, but it would either continue as it is or merge into Fire District 2 (Burien/Normanday Park), which is also controlled by a locally elected board.

    School District. NH is served entirely by the Highline School District, which is controlled by a school board elected from the entire district. It appears that annexation to Seattle would not result in annexation of the NH area into the Seattle School District, though that is a possibility. The biggest impact annexation would have on the School District would be from the increase in population that would be expected to come with annexation to Seattle (Seattle’s comp plan calls for dramatically increased housing density in the NH area). Doubling or tripling the population of the area in a decade would bring a need for more and larger shcools, which would be funded by tax levies on the entire District.

    The libraries are another issue. Right now the White Center and Boulevard Park libraries are part of the King County Regional Library System. Users in those local libraries have access to materials and resources in the rest of the system (which I believe covers everything in the County outside Seattle). Annexation to Seattle would mean annexation of the libraries into Seattle’s library system, with maintenance or retention of the local libraries dependant on Seattle’s needs as a whole. Annexation to Burien would mean no change in the libraries.

    This is pretty long already, so I will sign off for now even though I have more to say. However, like Mr. Ufkes, I will include my email address for anyone who wants to hear more.

  2. Some comments on things raised by other contributors.

    Infrastructure. Seattle’s current infrastructure is falling apart (literally in the case of the viaduct). If you look around the City you see streets that are not maintained (the Mayor is still trying to find some way to pay for streets), parks that people are afraid to use after dark and homeless people sleeping whereever they can find a little shelter (which the City cannot afford to provide). What makes anyone think Seattle would be able to improve anything in NH.

    Police. The biggest problem for years in White Center was that the deputies in White Center would chase the bad guys across Roxbury and the officers in Seattle would chase them back. Cooperation has improved dramatically over the last decade or so, but aside from the random emphasis actions (when the Seattle PD sends a large number of officers into a neighborhood on a short term [one or two days] basis) I have seen no indication anywhere that the Seattle PD would do any better than the Sheriff is doing right now. My own experiences with both the Seattle PD (two separate incidents, residential burglary and car break in, PD would not send an officer, just took the report over the phone) and King County Sheriff’s office (three separate incidents, threats, car theft and car break in, a deputy responded each time), and many conversations with others do not give me any confidence in the Seattle PD.

    Seattle’s handling of low income areas. Traditionally has been one of general, though usually benign, neglect. For decades little was done to reverse the decline of many areas (Columbia City, Rainier Beach, Beacon Hill, Georgetown, South Park, Delridge, White Center, Puget Ridge, Central District, etc.). Some areas were pushed toward industrialization and depopulation (South Park and Georgetown), while others were simply ignored. Gentrification (particularly in the CD) changed the image of what could happen in those areas and brought a change in thinking. High density zoning and new development in neighborhoods where prices have been kept low due to neglect for many years is changing those areas, and raising property values, but not in a way that benefits the long time residents of those areas.

    Sewer extensions. The City of Seattle cannot guarantee that you will get a sewer extension. The best it can do is try to facility an LID to bring a sewer extension. If you are in a sewer district now, all that is needed to get an extension is to convince at least 60% of your neighbors (the people to be served) to help pay for it. The City could I suppose dip into its pot of money to pay for an extension itself, but I have seen no indication that it actually would be willing to do so.

    Non-white people wanting to annex into Seattle. An unfortunate effect of the language and cultural barriers that continue to exist is that people of color generally have not been involved in any public discussions in any manner proportionate to their population. The ones I have seen at various meetings that have shown support for annexaton to Seattle have either been directly associated with social service organizations (some of the most prominent do not even live in or close to the NH area) which seem generally to favor annexation to Seattle. Apparently because they see an opportunity to obtain more funding for their own programs.

    Burien Residents Against Annexation. That name was terribly presumptous (much like the White Center Homeowners Association) as it purports to speak for all the residents of Burien but in fact consists of a small number (probably less than 20) people who appear to all live in the Seahurst-Three Tree Point area. For a time at least, they seemed to have a consistent good turnout at various meetings and hearings (4-8 people at each) but it was always the same people.

    Burien annexation boundary. The present boundary is based on fear among many in Burien city government that the City would not be able to handle annexation of the entire area at one time. It was drawn to make sure the annexation area would include at least 10,000 people, without going over that number by too much. I have no idea why Rainer Golf Club was included by GlenAcres was not. Inclusion of one or both NHFD stations has no effect as (unless the District merges with FD2) the City will need to contract with the District for fire coverage anyway (as it does not for most of the northern part of Burien).

  3. A couple of typos in my last post. The only one of importance is in the last sentence. It should say that NHFD does now contract to provide coverage for the northern parts of Burien.

  4. First of all, Jerry told me once, that he came up with the term “North Highline” and, I think, is a founding member of the North Highline UAC. There is a group associated with the UAC who start each statement with “I have lived here for 20 plus years”, which I have learned is more often a subtle way of saying that “you have not lived in this community as long as I have, so your views are not as important”. I will go into detail about the UAC later Jerry. That will be fun.

    For this blog, lets address Jerry’s claims about water and sewer. Every water user in North Highline (there are what,four water districts?) all get their water from Seattle. In the western areas of White Center for example, we ALREADY get are water directly from Seattle and pay a Seattle water bill. All the other water districts buy their water from Seattle. Why? Because Seattle has some of the cleanest and safest water in the world. Water District 20 is the only entity really worried about Seattle annexation. It appears that the commission wants to become part of Burien.

    Yet what Jerry failed to mention is that Seattle will leave District 20 in place, with just more controls and more oversight. Can Seattle change its approach later, sure. And it can raise fees and eventually take Water District 20 over. Especially if the water district repeats its recent performances where a water commissioner also sits on the Burien City Council AT THE SAME TIME, pushing to go to Burien, as a water commissioner and voting to annex North Highline as a Burien City Council member. It is against state law to sit on two elected positions at the same time Jerry. And even if there is some legal twist to allow it in this case, it looks plain wrong. And smells of small town politics. I note that you did not say anything about this publicly or in your blog comments. Why Jerry? What if the situation was reversed, and the person was a Seattle City Council member pushing for Seattle instead, in two elected postions at the same time. I’ve known of you Jerry for a while now. You would be screaming bloody murder. But since it is about your interest for Burien, you appear to look the other way. Interesting.

    Also, an executive staff person employed by a district got elected to the North Highline fire commission, while at the exact same time, an executive staff person from the fire district was elected to the district board. This could only be true for North Highline. Thus, we had two employees seving on elected boards in positions to possibly influence and set each other’s salaries. So, I am on a commission to set your salary, and you are on a commission to set my salary. Doesn’t that look bad? If this had been Seattle, we would have read about this on the front page of the paper Jerry. But is was North Highline, so it was never discussed. I note that you were silent about this issue too.

    And then there is the Sewer District. The Suburban Sewer District already services Seattle’s Arbor Heights neighborhood. Seattle all along has said that the Suburban Sewer District will stay in place with a modest fee increase. Why, because poop flows down hill Jerry. Seattle will provide more oversight. Will fees go up. Probably. What ever we do on annexation, fees will go up Jerry. That is a sign of the times.

    Why do you think that the Sewer District has raced to put in new lines and buy new trucks over the last two years? To increase their debt load, so with more debt, Seattle will be less likely to take it over.

    One of our White Center Homeowner members attends almost all of these water and sewer district meetings. You know what he reports back, almost every time? No one else ever attends these meetings. But annexation is also about police and fire (more later Jerry) real estate values and development (more later Jerry), governance, tax revenues and government services (again, more later Jerry).

    Jerry, share your last name and offer the readers what you do for a living. And when I get time to write about the UAC, I will respond to your eagerness to discount any other community group who doesn’t agree with you. If I was an attorney, I would consider suing for slander.

    And remember Jerry, when we both sat on a panel discussion before the Shorewood Community Council on annexation. You arrived quite late and missed participating in most of the debate. Any time you want to have another public debate to have a full accounting of the issues, and the history that has occurred, you know where to find me Jerry. I would really enjoy that. Until then, we will use this blog.

    And to folks interested in our honey harvest today. We now have 94 jars of fantastic White Center Yard Honey. Clear and golden and sweet as can be. If the owners of this wonderful blog let me know where to deliver some, a jar will arrive for your enjoyment, once it has been labeled.

    And for everyone, I am sorry to say that I do not have the time every day to do this blogging, as I have a remarkable wife, two wonderful young boys, I am an active Scoutmaster (we helped 10 scouts complete their Eagle in the last two years), I am a founding member of Friends of Hicks Lake/Lakewood Park, President of the White Center Homeowners Association, we have business interests that take me out of town several times each month, and I consult with Indian Tribes, and other groups, on non-gaming, community development issues that also require travel. But be assured, I will enjoy responding to every issue that Jerry is trying to make. It might just take awhile. And again, what do you do for a living Jerry?

    Warm regards

    (c) Mark Ufkes

  5. Oh, it’s illegal to hold two elected positions at the same time? You’d better explain that to Tim Sheldon, who is a state Senator and a Mason County Commissioner.

    I’m sure that once he partakes of your legal wisdom, he’ll throw up his hands in horror, do 100 mea culpas, and give back one of his two salaries — with interest.

    But I’m guessing he won’t — because what he is doing is (hate to break it to you) NOT illegal.

  6. I agree with private24, Mark Ufkes is simply wrong when he says it illegal for one person to hold two elected positions at the same time.

    Further, should Mr. Ufkes or anyone else try to say that it is “illegal” for the Burien Councilmember who is also a Water Commissioner to vote on desisions about annexation, here are the facts. That has already been thoroughly investigated and, yes, she can legally vote on annexation decisions.

    A Burien resident, John Rizzardi, an attorney and who is involved with Burien Residents Against Annexation, raised that issue and tried to claim she legally couldn’t vote on annexation issues on the Burien City Council.

    Please see former WA State Supreme Court Justice Phil Talmadge’s legal opinion on this issue where, in part he states, “Quite frankly, Mr. Rizzardi is simply wrong….”

  7. This thread is both enlightening and maddening.

    I am starting to see the helpful information being squeezed out by the need of some to tout their accomplishments, titles, and whatnot. Really, all most of us care about are facts, ideas, and thoughtful discourse. Posturing and one-upping other commenters accomplishes nothing.

    I am torn about the options before me, as a White Center resident. If either side expects to convince me and the many others out there like me, we need keep the issues front-and-center. The schools, support services, and taxation issues are vital points that require a lot more clarification and I would like to see us use WCN -as well as other forums- to make that happen.

  8. I am a lifetime Seattleite, I grew up on Capitol Hill in the ’70s. I can’t afford to live there anymore, I don’t even hardly recognize it anymore. I lived in Ballard for ten years plus, and watched it go from the place no one wanted to be to the hottest thing since sliced bread. In just a few short years. I’m all for improvement and growth, urban density, and all that. But I’m also a fan of my city’s history, sustainability, thoughtful design, and good urban planning principles. All of which have disappeared from the cityscape over the last decade.

    When we moved here [Top Hat], I felt like I was coming home again. A feeling I don’t get anywhere else in Seattle anymore. I love this area, and it’s neighbors (South Park, Georgetown, Burien, West Sea, etc). While there are definitely improvements that can be made and are needed, I simply do NOT trust the City of Seattle to be thoughtful with North Highline. I would rather take my chances with the little guy [Burien] than the current state of Seattle government. It’s a gut instinct from a lifetime resident, nothing more. But I think Burien has a lot more to lose if they fail, and Seattle has a lot more they’d like to lose into the wilds of North Highline, instead of addressing it head on and cleaning up their messes.

  9. Martha Koester Says:

    Can’t figure out why Mr. Ufkes dropped out of NHUAC. It’s pretty difficult to get people interested in participating in an organization that has no actual legislative power. Seems to me that with such a low participation rate, if there were any serious community support for annexation to Seattle, he could do doorbelling and phonebanking to get others who agree with him to get a majority on the council elected. That hasn’t happened yet, which speaks volumes.

  10. I have lived in No. Highline sine “1994” and provide contract services to Burien since “1999”. I know staff, council and residents. I can assure you that Burien is the best opption. for when ever the subject comes up their primary focus is how to make this area better. Their not looking at land grabbing or extra tax base their asking how much to remove graffiti, how to get the parks safer and greener. The real reason they are side stepping Evergreen HS is the pool. The pool is a HUGE maintance cost and low revenue intake. The pool cannot support itself and the community does not want it to go away. (like KC did with some of our parks) For the small business owners, the B&O gross is twice as high as seattle. As a burien resident I have a better chance of becoming a council member and doing whats best for my neighborhood. If you really like to pay for million dollar porta-potties, monorails or any other bright ideas that Seattle council can come up with and then realize that they took the tax payers money invane, i welcome you to be come a Seattle residence. If you really care go to all public meetings not just the ones that share your views. Though it is a little harder to attend a Pro Seattle meeting if you are a Pro Burien supporter. But I try anyways.

  11. To Mark Ufkes – I am a homeowner in White Center – I have never heard or seen any info about the homeowner’s association. How many members do you have and how does one find out about it. How do you become a member. Please respond.

  12. I have lived in the Burien area almost my entire life–save for three-plus years in the Arbor Heights area of West Seattle. I have to say that the citizens in the WC area (espcially those that live in the PAA that Burien has proposed) have some things to consider regarding annexation.

    First, as citizens living in an unincorporated area, you have NO local control of your area, and the KC council that is responsible for that area has made it very clear that urban/suburban type services will decrease over time.

    The WA State Growth Management Act and the KC Countywide Planning Policies stipulate that areas like the North Highline area are better suited to be a part of a city and be provided city-type services.

    Right now you don’t have that. However, you do have special purpose districts that do provide you with city-level services, such as fire, water, sewer, etc. Additionally, you receive police services from the King County Sheriff’s Office, which pretty-much provide municiple level police services.

    The problem North Highline faces, is that there is no local government for people to address. You all need responsive representitives of YOUR area that will hear you concerns and help to make your community a better place.

    As I mentioned above, I lived in Seattle for 3+ years. My experience with Seattle is not good. The bureaucracy in Seattle’s government is quite astonishing. If you’re looking for a government that is less-responsive, then Seattle is for you.

    In dealing with them for permitting, all I can say is that their permitting process could be a excellent torture mechanism. All of my interactions involved city workers who didn’t even know their own divisions policies, often giving me information about land-use and permitting that contradicted each other. Additionally, I dealt with city employees who seemed to care more about getting off the phone with me rather than actually helping me with a genuine concern.

    On the other hand, Burien’s government is much smaller and their employees are willing to help you and not make you feel bad. And guess what? They’re there to serve your needs and assist you with your project.

    Further, Seattle offers you less government control. Right now most of you in the North Highline area have great representation in your water, sewer and fire districts. Typically three commissioners sit on those districts boards. Now if you choose to go with Seattle, you’ll lose all that representation. Now I know that Seattle has mentioned in the past, that they’ll establish agreements and franchiese with these special purpose districts (water and sewer), however I know–based on inside information–that Seattle will only keep the agreements in place on an interem basis, after which they will likely fully take-over those special districts.

    If you choose Burien, all those districts remain as Burien does not have their own water, sewer and fire departments. Right now some of the special purpose districts span both Burien and part of the NH area.

    If you choose Burien, you’ll get a much more responsive government that will actually LISTEN to your needs. Additionally, you’ll have elected officials who are actually approachable. AND, you yourself could be one of them!

    Make no mistake, Seattle government is huge and overly bloated. I love so many thnings about Seattle, but their government is NOT one of them. Burien is great community with great attributes, as is the North Highline area. Burien and North Highline have much in common, being part of the greater “Highline” community.

    Over three years ago (yes the annexation issue has been going on for almost four years now) a North Highline citizens spoke at a Burien City Council meeting and touted the many services that Seattle provided, and how she wanted Seattle to annex. She displayed large boards with all of the pages out of the phone book that showed the numerous numbers for the various departments and divisions in Seattle. She then showed Burien’s section in the phone book, which was drastically smaller, and I think less than one page. She then spoke that she’ll chooses the government with “all of that,” motioning to all of the Seattle pages.

    She makes my point exactly. Seattle is a huge, overly-bureaucratic government.

    Large=less responsive and unapproachalbe.

    Finally, on September 2nd is a very important meeting where the King County Boundary Review Board will hear whether or not to accept Burien’s plan for annexation. If you want to be a part of Burien, I encourage you to attend and let the board know that you would like them to accept Burien’s plan for annexation. Check the City of Burien’s website for more info on annexation.

  13. Anyone who happens to come back to this thread before seeing our new report at the top of WCN’s home page on the Burien withdrawal – we invite your comments on that post – we just discovered the Burien announcement online a short time ago and it does not appear to have been published anywhere else as of this writing. Thanks again for participating in the discussion; I may be contacting some of you by e-mail (which is only visible to us, as administrators) looking for comment.

  14. I am happy to see so much discussion of the citizens’ role in local government. Right now, NH residents get to vote for fire commissioners, water commissioners (in the areas not served directly by Seattle), and sewer commissioners), but their voice is largely lost when it comes to election of their county council representative.
    NH has been well served by its representatives to the county council over the years, but it is easy to get lost in the crowd. NH has about 1.5% of King County’s voters. It gets a little of help from the County’s district system (giving NH maybe 10% of the votes for “its” councilman) but it is easy for NH’s concerns to get lost in an area that size. In Seattle, NH would represent about 5% of the voters. Not enough to ensure that the concerns of NH residents would be heard. In Burien, NH would represent about half of the voters, more than enough to be heard.

    Seattle knows that NH voters will not support annexation to Seattle. That is why they have refused so far to call for an election on annexation to Seattle. But the Mayor wants NH, so Seattle has been fighting Burien to avoid an election on annexation to Burien and force annexation through an interlocal agreement (RCW 35.13.470-.480), which would allow annexation without the consent of NH residents.

  15. Hi Jerry,
    I was wondering if you could point me to the documentation that shows that Seattle is pursuing an interlocal agreement.


  16. Valkyrie,
    I don’t have documentation of that, but have come to that conclusion based on the circumstances.
    First, Seattle has never proposed an election for NH annexation.
    Second, Seattle opposed Burien’s proposal to put at least partial annexation on the ballot.
    Third, Seattle has based its opposition to annexation by Burien (both to the just withdrawn proposal and to Burien’s original adoption of the NH PAA [a step Burien took before Seattle adopted its own NH PAA]) on claims that there needs to be an agreement worked out between Seattle and Burien on annexation before any annexation can go ahead. According to Burien (see the letter withdrawing the annexation proposal), Seattle has not negotiated in good faith and for the most part has refused to talk to Burien about the issues.
    Fourth, the term “interlocal agreement” came up in several descriptions of the ‘negotiations’ Seattle claims to be seeking with Burien, and in early descriptions of the need for the Cities to cooperate on annexation.