On Jan. 23 the Washington State Boundary Review Board unanimously voted in favor of a motion to accept Burien’s plan to annex the remainder of unincorporated North Highline, including White Center.
The preliminary vote will be drafted into formal report for a final vote on Feb. 16. If accepted at that time (which is likely), there will be a 30-day appeal period where challenges can be brought to the King County Superior Court.
While the boundary review decision is a required step in Burien’s path towards annexation, both the state legislature’s threat to axe their $5 million a year sales tax credit (for annexing the area) and, ultimately, the people of North Highline’s vote are future hurdles.
“In this era with the financial difficulties every city is facing, it is going to be literally impossible to feel 100 percent confident in the financial capabilities of the city … there are a lot of cities out there on shaky ground that are not even annexing,” board member Claudia Hirschey said. “I guess part of me says that if the citizens want this to happen and vote for this to happen, that through our democratic process there will be a way to make it happen.”
Board member Michael Marchand said he appreciated Burien’s “candor” in stating annexation would not happen if the state kills the $5 million a year (for 10 years) sales tax credit.
“In comparing the potential for any other jurisdiction to be able to fund that infrastructure (sidewalks, paving and stormwater improvements in Area Y), King County – they are not going to be funding anything in this area for a long time, if ever,” Hirschey said. “City of Seattle would have the potential if they passed another vote (to fund infrastructure improvements) … but the citizens could be swallowed up and basically I think, in terms of infrastructure, it would take a very long time to lobby Seattle and prioritize improvements in this area.”
The concern over whether White Center residents identify with Seattle over Burien was raised by board member Paul MacCready, but the board decided the majority of public testimony from North Highline residents illustrated many felt more a part of Burien.
“It will ultimately go to the people, for the people to decide,” Marchand said.
Board members expressed their gratitude to the citizens of Burien and North Highline who spoke for and against the proposed annexation.
Burien Councilmember Lucy Krakowiak, who has consistently expressed concern over annexation along with Councilmember Bob Edgar, spoke on Jan. 9 and said the Berk report needed to be reevaluated to ensure its economic feasibility and pre-annexation agreements on fire district coverage should be solidified before moving forward.
After the board’s unanimous vote, Krakowiak said, “I think it is great and I think that the board has been through a thoughtful process and I look forward to the vote from North Highline.”
North Highline Unincorporated Area Council President and White Center resident Barbara Dobkin, a longtime supporter of Burien’s plan to annex, said, “I think it was the right decision and it’s just one step in the long process, so we have to see where the annexation tax credit takes us and hopefully we can move on.”
In an interview on Jan. 24 Burien City Manager Mike Martin said, “We have all along felt the annexation was a good one and appropriate and we didn’t think (the boundary review board) would disagree with it. I would have really been surprised if it would have gone the other way.”
Martin said after the board finalizes their decision on Feb. 16 “we will be keeping an eye on and working with the legislature on preserving the sales tax credit and will probably have a better handle on that in the next month or so, and we will make a plan from there.”
As for the possibility of the legislature keeping the credit alive this year, but changing their mind sometime in the future, Martin said, “There is a danger and it is something we are very much alert to. As soon as we hear whether they are going to keep the sales tax credit or not, then I am going to start looking at ways to ensure it remains.”
One of the strategies he shared: “Making sure that the statute that governs all this stuff can be relied upon to lock it in, and there is case law on that.”