Burien Chief of Police Scott Kimerer addresses the crowd during the last annexation information meeting on Oct. 18 before North Highline residents decide their fate in the Nov. 6 election.
North Highliners get their last bit of annexation info before the vote
On the same day ballots started arriving in mailboxes with the option for North Highline residents to approve or reject annexation to Burien, the city hoping to take them on hosted their final information meeting on Oct. 18 at Cascade Middle School in White Center.
After Burien City Manager Mike Martin and Police Chief Scott Kimerer gave their introductory remarks, noting a raise in taxes for homeowners of around $140 (average) and policing levels remaining the same, the floor was turned over to a mix of pro and anti-annexation questions, with a few undecided’s thrown into the mix.
Martin spent a good portion of the presentation addressing conflicting claims on annexation from Independent White Center, a political action committee against annexation. IWC has claimed, for example, that property taxes will go up, on average, over $400 for North Highline residents instead of the Burien claim of $140.
“You may or may not have seen figures out there of three, four, five, six times that amount,” Martin said. “They are wrong, they are just flat wrong, it is disinformation and we feel really solid this is the correct number. Game over.”
Chief Kimerer was asked to talk about the realities of police services for North Highline if annexation goes through (Burien contracts their police services through the King County Sheriff’s Office and has done so for about 20 years).
He said nothing much would change besides uniforms. The current deputies working in North Highline would likely become Burien police officers (including the storefront deputy), he said.
“What it does do is it increases the size of the Burien police department,” Kimerer said, “so now there are more resources that can be focused in on different areas. I have a gang unit, I have property detectives, I have undercover narcotics detectives and other specialty units that are out there.”
Martin addressed revenue and economics of annexation.
“There is absolutely no question that this annexation is financially viable, there is absolutely no question that we are getting $5 million from the state (a year, for 10 years for annexing the area),” he said. “This line of questioning about Burien going broke … Burien is in a far, far, far greater financial situation than 90 percent of the cities out there. This year the council was presented with an option. We can use reserves to balance the budget or we can raise taxes and they said, ‘You know what, these are hard times and we are not going to raise taxes … we are going to go to reserves and we are going to bet that the economy is going to turn around and improve.”
Chestine Edgar, an anti-annexation Burien resident who has sparred with Martin at each information session, presented a letter from the Washington State Department of Revenue challenging his guarantee of $5 million a year to be put back into North Highline (basically, to pay for the expanded police contract with the King County Sheriff’s Office).
Edgar said “their projection (based on 2011 revenues) is that you could get $4.3 million (a year).” She asked how he plans to cover that expected shortfall.
“When you annex there is another $833,000 that comes from the White Center area for a total of $5.1 to $5.3 million,” Martin responded.
An audience member asked, “How would annexation change things?”
Martin said while most things remain the same (with the exception of a raise in taxes for homeowners and businesses), “I would say that you are going to have a voice. The city is very progressive … we value our schools, we understand what the community values and we try to build governance around it.”
He continued to say North Highline has been “neglected” by King County (King County has made it clear they are trying to annex all urban unincorporated areas, including North Highline as part of their Growth Management Act), and that residents would have a greater say in how things move forward as part of Burien.
When asked what will happen if North Highline decides to stay unincorporated, Martin said “I don’t think the sky is falling, but I think things are degrading. I don’t believe the world will go black; the cops are going to go away; the streets are going to turn to dust. They may over time, but it’s not going to happen tomorrow. I think it is fair to say that we have been told by the county that services will continue to degrade year by year by year. They will never get better, they will get worse.”
It is still a possibility that Seattle could annex North Highline if Burien does not, but they have made no recent indication they intend to do so.
If annexation passes, the City of Burien will sit down with King County and iron out the specifics of the transition. That transition is expected to happen in 2013 and Martin said, once annexed, newly-minted Burien residents will be able to run and vote for city council seats, and vote on city measures.
For more information on the annexation of North Highline to Burien:
Visit the City of Burien Annexation FAQ
To see what the opposing PAC's have to say, visit independentwhitecenter.com (anti-annexation) or vote4burien.org (pro-annexation).