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King County: West Hill Annexation Q & A

A special thanks to the West Hill Community Association for gathering theses questions regarding annexation, and getting the answers from King County.

**Click here for a video recording from an Oct. 16 West Hill Community Association Meeting where Karen Wolf talks about the impacts of annexation into Renton.**

1. How will our local road services be impacted, assuming we vote NO to annexing to Renton in the upcoming November election?

If the “no” vote passes, local road services would continue to be provided by the King County Road Services Division, the agency responsible for managing the 1,500 miles of roads, bridges and culverts in unincorporated King County. Revenues that support the County Road Fund have fallen dramatically, and the County’s unincorporated area road system, a $39 billion asset built by generations of King County taxpayers, is facing imminent decline and decay. Nearly two-thirds of King County’s key road assets are in jeopardy of failure. In addition to having reduced its work force by one-third by 2014 and reorganizing functions and staff to save money and realize efficiencies, the division is already below its worst case financial assumptions. Service impacts may include partial or complete closure of roads and bridges, lengthy detours, load limits on trucks, and reduced snow and ice response. However, major arterials and Metro Transit routes will continue to receive snow and ice response such as Renton Ave S, 84th Ave S, 87th Ave S., S Lakeridge Dr. and S. 129th St. A number of other routes including Rainier Ave S, S 133rd St., S. Langston Rd, 68th Ave S. and 78th Ave S. will receive sanding services.

2. How long will West Hill remain in Renton’s PAA, and are there any other contenders on the near or distant horizon (Seattle, Tukwila), should Renton drop out?

West Hill will remain in Renton’s Potential Annexation Area (PAA) indefinitely. There are no other contenders on the horizon – near or distant. PAAs are determined by regional consensus and are identified on a map in the Countywide Planning Policies and in the King County Comprehensive Plan.

3. What is King County’s backup plan should West Hill voters reject annexation?

West Hill will remain in unincorporated King County until such time that it is annexed, as long envisioned under the state Growth Management Act

4. In 2003, King County did a study (ref: King County General Budget Advisory Task Force) which made the following claim [under the subject of Root Causes]: “In total, $42 million per year more is spent in unincorporated areas (rural and urban) than those areas generate in taxes.” And under the subject of Urban Subsidy, the following claim was made in the same report: “[Urban] unincorporated areas [are] getting more than they’re paying for.” With respect to these claims we have the following questions:

  • What part of that “subsidy” was reflected in the urban areas only (excluding rural areas) as an annual amount?
  • How has the overall subsidy to urban areas changed in the intervening years (increase, decrease, or stayed approximately the same)?
  • Thinking of the local West Hill unincorporated area specifically, how much more (or less) has been spent in this area each of the past eight years than was generated in taxes from the area?
  • Until such time as the West Hill area is no longer unincorporated, what is the projected future level of expenditure for the area compared to taxes generated in the area (and how long can such a projection expected to be realistic)?
  • Finally, if the services the area needs cannot be met within the pool of taxes generated in this area, and future subsidy from county regional revenues is not an option, what options will be open to citizens of this area to shore up our own tax base in order to maintain or improve the area as a vital and forward-thinking place to live, assuming the area stays unincorporated?

Simply put, without any business or commercial activity, the West Hill area generated less in revenues last year than it takes to pay for basic services provided by King County. At this point, King County cannot say what future expenditure levels will be in this area. We agree, however, that there is a minimum level of service that must be maintained. Like any household, King County must live within its means and provide only those services that can be funded.. To live within strictly limited revenues, the County has had to reduce such services as economic development, human services, parks, and community planning. Taxes must be uniform within a taxing district, so that it is not possible to raise taxes in the West Hill area without doing the same throughout the rest of unincorporated King County.

The BATForce Task Force and report you mention was conducted nearly 10 years ago, and its data is out of date

5. What are King County’s specific concerns about stormwater drainage on the West Hill, and what are the plans for making improvements, including cost?

There are no significant site-specific drainage issues in West Hill that have been identified for specific remediation action. Drainage measures met standards at the time of development, but in the succeeding decades major new regulation has come into play (permitting of stormwater discharges under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System). Meeting standards in the future may mean retrofitting drainage and water quality improvement infrastructure in the coming years.

6. Recent challenges outlined by the King County roads department include the success of the annexation initiative which has reduced the overall property tax base for roads in King County. How has the number of street/road miles for which King County is responsible been reduced due to recent completed annexations, and isn’t any reduction which has been seen proportional to the reduction in tax base for roads (i.e. an expected consequence)? Furthermore, how much deferred maintenance was King County able to remove from its books due to completed annexations?

Since 2005, the number of road miles that King County is responsible for has been reduced by 18%, accounting for both miles lost by annexation and miles added by new development. The annexation of urban unincorporated areas into cities has left a dramatically eroded property tax base for roads -- yet the county has not seen a proportional drop in its responsibility for repairing, maintaining and replacing roads, bridges and culverts and is still responsible for nearly 1,500 miles of roadway. Annexations are leaving the County with less revenue and rural roadways that are the most difficult to support because of their location, age and condition, and susceptibility to flooding and snow and ice events. In addition, revenue has not kept pace with inflation, including increases in the costs of labor and benefits, materials and equipment.

Over the past three years, revenues from the roads levy have fallen more than one-third due to annexations and lower property values. Although the impact of annexations on revenues have always been anticipated and planned for, the continued downturn in the economy and reduction in gas tax have made the revenue shortfall worse than anticipated. Over the next five years, as additional annexations are completed, property owners in the unincorporated area will continue paying on bonds for work the County did on roads and bridges that are now owned by cities.

Road Services estimates an over $30 million annual maintenance and preservation backlog for the portion of the road system the division will manage post-annexation.

7. Will the proposed $20 car tab fee (for roads) apply to our area if Annexation passes?

It depends on when the annexation is effective and when the Transportation Benefit District (TBD) fee would be implemented. The Executive has proposed legislation that would make any TBD fee apply in the unincorporated area only. Further, the King County Council, in its role as the TBD board, has not yet considered imposing the $20 fee.

8. If the November 6 vote to annex West Hill to Renton fails, how long might it take to get another vote on the ballot? Will citizens need to start the process all over again, with petitions, the boundary review hearing process, and hearings before the Renton City Council?

There is no time requirement between votes. The timing will be up to the residents of West Hill and the City of Renton. The process to annex West Hill to the City of Renton will have to start over from the beginning with petitions and hearings, just as in the initial process.

Question Mark October 26, 2012 at 05:51 AM
" The BATForce Task Force and report you mention was conducted nearly 10 years ago, and its data is out of date " However, the BATForce Task Force report is the political basis for the very CURRENT issue of annexation to the City of Renton that West Hill voters will address in the upcoming election. Please, King County, are you trying to tell us by your response that the fundamentals have changed, and that the push for annexation in urban unincorporated areas is no longer needed? Inquiring minds want to know ...
STOP Larry's 3rd Attempt December 08, 2012 at 06:28 PM
ANNEXATION - DEMOCRATS BREAK PROMISES MADE TO ENTICE ANNEXATION ANNEXATION - DEMOCRATS BREAKING PROMISES USED TO ENTICE ANNEXATION BEWARE!!! Deal "sweeteners" are often offered to entice "consolidations" or "annexations." A couple cities that only entered into consolidation based on promises made are now fighting their 3rd fight in 9 months to have the legal contracts upheld. Funny how the representative from the 45th district was the one who originally passed the bill to allow the "prenupital" agreement between the cities. Now the representative from the 45th district (years later) single handedly wants to break the contract. This is without any request from citizens at large or either of the cities involved!!! BEWARE!!! Don't be enticed or tricked into consolidation or annexation based on promises that will later be broken!!!

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