Residents of Finn Hill, Juanita and Kingsgate will have the choice in November to join the city of Kirkland in an annexation that would increase Kirkland's population from 49,000 to 82,000. People in favor of annexation say it's time, while those opposed don't think the city can handle the financial burden.

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For those weighing whether they want to be annexed into the city of Kirkland, the vote comes down to whether the 33,000 area residents will receive better services as part of the city, or the county.

Some residents think Kirkland will be able to better provide more critical services. But others predict annexation could mean leaving King County’s budget crisis for one that is even worse.

Residents in unincorporated Finn Hill, Juanita and Kingsgate will weigh those issues when they vote on whether to join the city of Kirkland. Ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 3.

The unincorporated region borders the north side of Kirkland and bumps up against Kenmore, Bothell and Woodinville.

If approved, the annexation would increase the population of Kirkland from 49,000 residents to 82,000.

The city, which is currently the 19th largest in the state, would pass Bellingham to claim the No. 12 spot, according to 2009 population numbers from the state’s Office of Financial Management.

Cities are expected to annex unincorporated regions under Washington’s Growth Management Act, and the state has offered financial incentives to speed up the process. Kirkland already delayed annexation once because of a budget crunch but started the process this year to qualify for a state sales-tax credit, which will send $3 million to $4 million to the city per year for 10 years, officials say.

King County estimates it spends $5 million annually to provide services to the area and receives only $3.9 million in revenue. In August, the county also proposed cutting funding to urban parks, including several in the Kirkland annexation area.

Casino could stay

The annexation region also includes a casino. Kirkland bans cardrooms but under state law was allowed to grandfather in Casino Caribbean — and its tax revenue, estimated at up to $1 million a year. The council voted in July to let the casino stay open if annexation passes.

The city of Kirkland is struggling financially, with a drop of 20 percent in sales-tax revenue this past year, said finance director Tracey Dunlap. Officials are predicting an additional $10 million gap in the 2009-10 budget, she said.

For the annexation area, the city projects operating costs in 2011, when city services would start, at $20.5 million — around $17.1 million for services and an additional $3.3 million for facilities, Dunlap said. With the tax credit, casino and other revenue, the city would break even on operations, she said, but those numbers don’t include the costs of ramping up, such as buying more police cars.

But over time, the area is projected to have a budget gap like the rest of the city because in the long term, revenues won’t keep up with expenditures, she said. The city is required to balance its budget.

The pros and cons

Johanna Palmer has lived in unincorporated King County since 1988 and says the county isn’t set up to handle the increasingly urban area.

Residents now have to go to county offices in Renton or downtown Seattle for government services. Annexation would give them closer access, said Palmer, chair of Citizens for One Kirkland, a group that supports annexation.

The city would give them more proactive policing, Palmer said, and added that it also does a better job with neighborhood planning.

“We really feel it’s time and maybe even past time, especially with King County now announcing more and more cuts to unincorporated areas,” she said.

Katherine Winder, who helped write the ballot opposition statement, said she was in favor of annexation in 2004, but the city’s financial situation and the current council have turned her against it.

“The integrity of how the council works is really questionable,” she said. “I don’t want them representing me.”

Resident Rick Luke also doesn’t believe that Kirkland would be able to operate parks that King County has proposed closing. If the city were doing well, said Luke, who runs a Web site opposing the annexation, he might be in favor of annexation.

He also dislikes proposed tax increases. Kirkland residents are voting in November on an increase in the tax rate for utilities, from 6 percent to 7.5 percent. The people in the proposed annexation area can’t vote on the tax but would be subject to it if annexation goes through, the city said.

Luke thinks more tax increases will come. “They can’t take on parks and more police services without raising taxes,” he said.

Nicole Tsong: 206-464-2150 or ntsong@seattletimes.com