Annexation ‘conversation’ begins with standing-room-only event @ Dubsea Coffee
(Also published on partner site West Seattle Blog)
Story by Tracy Record
Photos by Patrick Sand
White Center Now/West Seattle Blog co-publishers
Just because White Center (and vicinity) voters said no to Burien doesn’t mean they’re ready to say yes to Seattle.
That was abundantly clear during tonight’s standing-room-only annexation “conversation” at Dubsea Coffee in Greenbridge, barely a block south of the city-county line.
Some in attendance loudly voiced skepticism and outright distrust of the city’s motives and even suitability.
Others asked simple questions about what changes annexation would bring.
The city’s longtime point person on annexation, Kenny Pittman, led the discussion, saying he wanted to offer “basic information” and answer questions, and promising more meetings and “outreach.”
He’s been working on the annexation issue for 12 1/2 years, he told the crowd of 50+, which included White Center community advocates and entrepreneurs.
He recapped why it’s on the front burner now – as first reported on our partner site White Center Now, Governor Inslee has signed a Legislature-passed bill that will divert millions of sales-tax dollars to Seattle to cover the costs of taking on the added residents and acreage.
Early on, he said annexation isn’t going to happen overnight:
If the city seeks and gets Boundary Review Board permission and the county sends it to voters in what remains of unincorporated North Highline, the earliest vote would be November 2017, and a “yes” vote then would lead to annexation taking effect in early 2019. Or, the timeline could be a year behind that, Pittman said.
Arriving late due to a transportation snarl, Karen Freeman from King County Executive Dow Constantine‘s staff underscored what the county’s message has long been – that the area must be annexed, because the county is not equipped, nor intended to, provide urban services.
Some wondered why White Center couldn’t become its own city. That was studied, said Freeman, but there just wasn’t a big-enough population/tax base for that to work.
That answer did not go over well with everyone.
But the informal presentation, and Q/A, ran to the basics, too. Such as – who would provide services, if county residents became city residents? The North Highline Fire District currently serves the area; its fire station on SW 112th would become a Seattle Fire Department station, said Pittman, and services would be provided as needed from north of Roxbury as well (West Seattle has five fire stations; South Park has one).
The Seattle Police Department would add officers, Pittman said, mentioning the number 40, at one point. Several outspoken attendees clearly believed they would be needed, repeatedly mentioning concern over Seattle’s crime rate, and the fact that some Seattleites are augmenting police with private security. Safety isn’t just a matter of police, Pittman countered, saying watchful neighbors are vital too, even where he lives (which, he volunteered, is in the Thurston County city of Lacey).
For schools, the area would remain with Highline Public Schools, until and unless HPS and Seattle Public Schools sought and reached some sort of agreement, which would then require approval by the Puget Sound Educational Service District. That sort of agreement is not currently being sought, it was stressed: “At this time, we are not looking at that at all.”
Pittman suggested that North Highline would get extra educational services as a result of annexation anyway, because of what the city has added on, including the Families and Education Levy, and the new Seattle Preschool Program.
He also declared that property tax would be lower after annexation, and acknowledged that would sound impossible, given the current complaint that people in Seattle are passing tax levies nonstop. The reduction, Pittman suggested, would be because residents would no longer be paying special levies for basic services such as roads, fire, and libraries.
That last point is one of contention, because King County Library System’s brand-new White Center Library is opening soon, a library for which WC community advocates and library supporters fought long and hard, built years behind schedule. The city and county are talking now about its fate, but at the very least, KCLS might continue managing it for a while after annexation.
Other questions – What would the transition for businesses be like? The question came from Proletariat Pizza proprietor Mike Albaeck:
The city has a business tax, Pittman acknowledged, though it’s not charged to those making below $100,000 a year. A business license is required. And while some might be concerned about Seattle’s so-called $15/hour minimum wage, it’s not up to that level for anyone yet, and small businesses currently are paying $12/hour, said Pittman.
He added that it’s not just a matter of paying and getting nothing in return, the city offers economic development. And that’s when a skeptical attendee spoke up passionately, saying White Center isn’t just “the unincorporated area,” it’s a small town, one of the last “blue-collar neighborhoods,” with a lot of pride. “I don’t want to see a Starbucks on every corner,” she declared, accusing the city of “ignoring us … forever.”
She was countered by longtime White Center resident and former Chamber of Commerce leader Mark Ufkes, who said he’s been talking with Pittman for the dozen or so years that Seattle annexation has been an on-and-off possibility.
But, he warned, if Pittman was going to be the only Seattle rep evangelizing annexation, “(it) will be voted down.”
More skepticism followed. The first questioner declared she considered the Seattle City Council to be “weird.” (The council would have to sign off on sending annexation to North Highline voters.)
Questions about zoning veered into concerns that developers would “run amok” as they are perceived to have done in Seattle, and would densify the area. What would happen to zoning? Pittman was asked. Freeman suggested that was a bright spot, as Seattle has a community-planning department, which the county does not have, though it did just hire a planner to work on Vashon Island issues.
Pittman added that the planning would involve adjacent neighborhoods as well, such as Highland Park and Roxhill, as had been requested by the nearest West Seattle community council, Westwood-Roxhill-Arbor Heights CC (here’s our coverage of the recent meeting at which that was discussed; Pittman had spoken there about the annexation process’s status).
Members of the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council, the potential annexation area’s lone community council, were there tonight, and asked pointed questions too.
(corrected) Another attendee wondered if Seattle would increase the amount of low-income housing in White Center. Pittman said the area is not and would not be a “dumping ground.”
How would annexation affect transit? an attendee asked. The county is responsible for it, but the city has been paying extra to buy additional service, Pittman mentioned, funded by the Seattle Transportation Benefit District‘s sales tax and car-tab tax.
What about parks and the birds they draw? Pittman replied that they would be transferred to the city.
Seattle would not take over all utilities, though – the areas served by sewer and water districts would keep that service (some of the potential annexation area has water service from Seattle Public Utilities, and that would continue).
A mix of information and consternation continued until the meeting closed at 6:30 pm as promised; Pittman thanked everyone for taking time “on a beautiful day” to show up and speak up.
WHAT’S NEXT: No schedule yet for the promised additional meetings. Pittman said the city will have a website and other ways of obtaining information. You can also watch the Boundary Review Board’s site for meeting agendas – proposed Seattle annexation would have to show up there, and go through board hearings and decisions, long before getting to voters.
P.S. A Seattle Channel crew recorded the meeting; we’re checking with SC to find out about plans for broadcast/webcast.
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March 18th, 2016 at 7:05 pm
I wish I could trust the Seattle gov’t because I just know we’ll be paying for Ed Murray and his staff’s DUMB ideas.
We”ll also be paying for the rich folks to become richer by paying for their ball parks.
When they say our taxes will be lower, what a bunch of lies. (In my opinion.)
March 19th, 2016 at 12:43 pm
Property taxes are affected by the number of special districts, the underlying home value, and the levy rate.
Home values will go up because people are moving here and demand is increasing. Annexation won’t stop or accelerate that.
Being annexed by Seattle won’t affect the taxes you pay to the school district so you need to set those aside in making comparisons. I have seen a comment in another forum that the school levy rate is lower for Seattle than for Highline but haven’t confirmed this.
You can do the math. Someone in another forum shared that he mean valuation for Area 23 is $227,500 according to the King County Assessor’s most recent report for this region (see PDF at http://www.kingcounty.gov/depts/assessor/Reports/area-reports/2015/residential-westcentral/~/media/depts/assessor/documents/AreaReports/2015/Residential/023.ashx).
At the current levy rate, this works out to an average property tax assessment of $2983.30. At the Seattle levy rate, the tax would be $2109.91. So, if we were annexed, someone with a home value at the mean for the area would save $873.39 per year.
The county’s budget has been so impacted that they’re letting some roads return to gravel, per comments made by a county council member in public meetings at the PSRC Transportation Policy Board. Lower taxes = lower services.
If we’re annexed we’ll have a vote on Seattle City Council seats and a voice in the decisions made there that affect us a great deal whether or not we’re inside city limits.
March 19th, 2016 at 4:17 pm
Something that deserves clarification in the story:
No one on the NHUAC board made any such comment that “White Center would become a “dumping ground” for low-income housing”. Concern regarding the concentration of more low income housing was expressed by an active community member – but the term “dumping ground” was actually made by the city representative, Kenny Pittman. The story should be corrected to accurately reflect how the term “dumping ground” was used.
March 21st, 2016 at 3:38 pm
…we have been burdened with the highest rate –11 percent of low income housing, so my opinion, we are a dumping ground.
March 21st, 2016 at 10:46 pm
Where do you think we get our 47 percent communities of color in White Center or why do we speak 56 languages here? Diversity is our strength Daisy-Bob. Low income housing is part of why we are so diverse. Fear of low income housing is Donald Trump speak. And Area studies suggest that we are not this claimed dumping ground anyway. And the low income housing I see is the nicest housing around. Enjoy your time at the Republican Presidential Caucus Daisy Bob.
March 25th, 2016 at 10:17 am
Mark Ufkes, how does low income housing affect the level of government services available to all residents in White Center, including King County services (sheriff and other) as well as special districts such as fire service?
What would be the right balance, in your opinion?
March 25th, 2016 at 11:03 am
not fear, but who do you think foots the bill for all this low income services, the tax payer and the government bureaucrats who spend money like water.. What a stupid comment to say Fear when it is money being shelled out. and skewed numbers for ‘low income ” needs is narrow minded belief in this socialist view.
March 25th, 2016 at 12:03 pm
Please don’t suggest that “low-income” people and “taxpayers” are two different groups. Low-income people pay taxes too … in most cases, a higher percentage of what income they have, than wealthy people, because our state’s tax system is so regressive. You can argue about how services are delivered, who’s eligible for them, what they cost, etc., but I see in too many places a suggestion that low-income people are not “taxpayers.” They are. On every bag of groceries. Every gallon of gas. Every single purchase. At the very least. And many low-income people have jobs that pay lousy wages. Those lousy wages are still taxed. Etc.
March 29th, 2016 at 11:49 am
….low income threshold that do not have to pay FEDERAL income tax by means of under the cap, ergo, due to their low income, they don’t pay federal taxes. In this case it is FEDERAL taxes that are funneled off into HUD programs.