It's the same old annexation song and dance, said Carol Lee Twitchell: Kirkland says it wants you inside its borders, but it just can't...
It’s the same old annexation song and dance, said Carol Lee Twitchell: Kirkland says it wants you inside its borders, but it just can’t afford you.
Twitchell said she has been hearing that Kirkland will annex her unincorporated neighborhood near Kingsgate since she moved there 15 years ago, and she’s getting frustrated. A recent analysis that looked at the cost of annexing the areas of Kingsgate, Juanita Beach and Finn Hill to the city did little to alleviate her aggravation.
The study showed the city would incur an annual $4.78 million shortfall to provide services to those areas. That is significantly higher than a previous study, done in 1999, which showed the city would have a $3.45 million annual shortfall.
“This wasn’t want we wanted to hear. Now we have to go back to the drawing board,” said Mayor Mary-Alyce Burleigh. “We haven’t given up. Even though the numbers are worse than before, there may be some creative ideas to look at.”
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The city is still hoping to annex the areas, which have a population of about 32,600, Burleigh said. Absorbing the swath of land would increase its current population of about 46,000 to more than 78,000, and would mean adding 152 employees to its current staff of about 425.
But some people who live in the unincorporated areas — including State Rep. Toby Nixon — took issue with the figures.
“I think they can tailor the services to match the resources that are available,” said Nixon, R-Kirkland, who is also president of Kingsgate Highlands Divisions 3 and 4 Homes Association.
“Right now, the area is being seriously underserved by the county. If you have the service level of a Yugo, and Kirkland has the service level of a Cadillac, then I think people in this area might be happy with a Chevy.”
Nixon also pointed out that years ago the city cherry-picked commercial areas to annex such as Totem Lake, which brings in more revenue through sales tax than it uses in city services.
“I think that’s a fair criticism,” said City Manager David Ramsay. “We, like many other cities in the state, selected areas that financially paid for themselves. Now we are left dealing with areas that don’t pay for themselves. But we’re stuck with the numbers we have.”
According to the analysis, there are a number of reasons the cost estimates have increased since 1999. The county has better information about the demographics and geography now than it did then. For instance, that study estimated Kirkland would need seven more employees for street maintenance and operations, but a more thorough street inventory showed it would need about 11 employees.
The biggest city expenditure would come from providing police services, which would include $2.7 million in one-time costs and $8.2 million in ongoing costs. The police department would need an additional 77.5 full-time employees, including 36 patrol officers, to cover the proposed annexation areas, the study said.
The idea of cutting back on police services in the area is problematic, Ramsay said
“Imagine you are taking calls at the dispatch center: Would you handle a call differently in the annexed area than in the rest of Kirkland, and is the person on the other end of the line going to be understanding of that?” he said.
Still, Twitchell and others say they would be willing to have phased-in services if it would speed up the annexation process.
“I think the city needs to relax about the services they think they need to offer us,” Twitchell said. “If the residents in the area they are annexing are OK with phased-in services, they should be OK with it.”
She and some other residents are more concerned about a proposed cardroom expected to open in the Kingsgate area. If the area were annexed, it would fall under city laws that prohibit cardrooms.
“Clearly, the whole casino aspect has amped up our desire to get annexed into Kirkland,” said Brad Roetcisoender, a Kingsgate resident. He also believes residents in the potential annexation area, especially those in Kingsgate, would be willing to make do with less services in order to be annexed.
Burleigh said the city has phased in services in the past, and it may consider doing it again.
The city is also looking at the possibility of asking for a temporary tax that residents in a newly annexed area would pay to offset the cost of providing services. Last year, the state Legislature considered a bill that would have allowed residents in a proposed annexation area to approve a temporary utility-tax surcharge for such a purpose, but the bill died in the Senate.
“We are going to meet with legislators over the summer … to see if we can come up with a strategy to make this legislation successful,” Ramsay said. “It could be an answer.”
Rachel Tuinstra: 206-515-5637