City Hall

Annexing White Center Could Cost City $5 Million a Year; Council and Mayor Skeptical

By Erica C. Barnett March 1, 2011

Members of the city council's development committee were skeptical that the city can afford to annex the North Highline area of unincorporated King County, based on a new report estimating that the annexation, which would bring White Center and Boulevard Park into the city, could cost the city $5 million a year more than it contributes in tax revenues.

Although Mayor Mike McGinn has said in the past that he supports putting White Center annexation on the ballot, his spokesman Aaron Pickus now says McGinn "thinks that the financial reality of the city’s budget make annexation difficult for the city to pursue right now.  The city does not have sufficient resources (and resource growth) to meet existing demands and take on the new demands that the annexation would require.  When our finances are more robust, he would be interested in re-evaluating the annexation."

The report suggests replacing the low-end range of potential costs produced by the city's budget office with an "alternative" scenario under which the "gap" between expenses and revenues would be around $4.6 million a year (instead of the budget office's original low-end estimate of $1.8 million), and one-time costs for things like new police cars would total around $8.7 million a year (instead of the low-end estimate of $4.7 million).

"I would love to see us offering the opportunity for the residents of North Highline to vote on annexation," said council member Mike O'Brien, but "if we're going to maintain the service levels through the rest of the city, coming up with the $5 million to pay for the gap" may be difficult.

The new, higher estimate assumes the city will continue to get a sales-tax credit that nets it $5 million a year; that the city won't do all the street repairs that are needed in the area right away (doing so would cost another $39 million); and that the city won't allow two cardrooms to continue doing business once they're part of Seattle, where cardrooms are illegal, among other assumptions.

That's also assuming the state doesn't exempt the University of Washington from the city's commercial parking tax, and that the federal government doesn't rescind any federal grants the city currently receives, both of which would make the city's shortfall even worse.

"The legislature [keeps] kicking holes in our budget," council member Jean Godden said. "It's quite concerning at this time to think of taking on an additional burden that we can't quantify."

King County wants Seattle to annex unincorporated White Center because the county’s ongoing structural budget crisis has made it harder and harder to provide services to that (increasingly urban) area. If the city doesn’t annex the area, it will remain in King County, awaiting a potential annexation by Burien (which already annexed part of North Highline in 2009) in a few years.

The full council will vote on whether it wants to put annexation on the ballot in late March.
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