On January 18th, the Seattle City Council Education, Equity & Governance Committee heard an overview of the process required to press forward with the expansion of the City of Seattle’s border lines – regarding a proposal for the annexation of White Center and an area known as the South Park sliver, affectionately known as the “Sliver on the River”. During the meeting, the presenter – Kenny Pittman from the Office of Intergovernmental Relations – indicated the last annexation for the City of the Seattle was as far back as the 1950s. A review of the City of Seattle’s Annexation listing however reveals that the most recent addition to the City of Seattle actually occurred in 1986, interestingly, immediately adjacent to White Center. That annexation was of an area referred to as Central Heights, which added 91 acres to the City of Seattle.The annexation of the North Highline/White Center area would add approximately 18,000 citizens to the City of Seattle, while the Duwamish/South Park Sliver would add 187. Interestingly, when it comes to the eventual vote by residents registered in the area, there are only 8,600 voters registered for the White Center area while only 87 in the Sliver. The population numbers for the Sliver have apparently dropped dramatically since the last attempt at annexation in 1965, when the then 1500 residents voted ‘No’ on the issue. In 2011 the City passed a resolution identifying it once again as a Potential Annexation Area, paving the way forward to today’s progress on the issue. So what does it take for the City of Seattle to expand its borders and annex a neighboring unincorporated area? As described in a memo to City Council by Mr. Pittman’s office, it requires eight basic steps for when the city wishes to initiate annexation on its own accord. In this case, the annexation is occurring via the Interlocal Agreement (ILA) method, although other methods petitioned by the voters of an unincorporated area are also possible. For example, in the case of the Sliver, the Direct Petition method of annexation could be initiated if as little as two registered voters in the area were to petition for annexation (see King County 2017 Jurisdiction Manual – Chapter 11) as they would compromise more than 10% of the proposed area’s population – proving that even a single voter…and their neighbor…can have a direct impact on local politics.
Going back to the more formal, City initiated ILA method, there’s technically a ninth step which requires the City to file a Notice of Intent with the Washington State Boundary Review Board, which in turn must give approval for the City to continue with the process. The two Notices of Intent were approved in September 2015 and July 2016 for the Sliver and White Center areas, respectively. The remaining eight steps in the process are as follows:
Step 1 – Preliminary Financial Analysis
This assessment basically identifies what the net financial impact to the City will be as a result of annexing the area of interest. Costs come primarily from municipal services, while revenue comes primarily from taxes. Additionally, Washington House Bill 2681 extended a tax credit for the city that will assist in the annexation of the White Center area, as described in the council memo:
“In the case of the North Highline Annexation Area, Seattle is eligible for a local Annexation Sales Tax, that is credited against the state’s sales tax, to help cover the financial “gap” between the cost of providing municipal services to the annexed area and revenues generated in the area. The sales tax credit provides up to $7.75 million per year for a six year period after the effective date of annexation. “
The credit does not apply to the Sliver, which falls significantly short of the population requirements for the credit to come into play. The City’s goal for completing an updated Preliminary Financial Analysis would be in the first quarter of the year that a vote on the issue were planned to occur. Therefore, for the Sliver, the goal is currently March of 2017, with the White Center update expected the following year.
Step 2 – Negotiation of Interlocal Agreement
An Interlocal Agreement (ILA) is how one local government agency can work with other public agencies in the interest of cooperatively sharing resources for their mutual benefit. In this case, it applies to the discussion of the transfer of county services, properties and assets involved in the annexation. For example, King County Library System currently owns and operates two libraries in the impacted areas, which could either be transferred to the Seattle Public Library System or remain operated by King County in return for a levy paid by the City of Seattle. The ILA negotiations are already in progress for the Sliver and expected to conclude by April of 2017. The White Center area ILA negotiations have not yet begun, but could be estimated to occur in Q1/Q2 2018 based on the projected annexation schedule.
Step 3 – Approval of ILA and Resolution to Establish Election Date
Approval of the ILA by City Council will indicate that the city has reached an agreement with King County on the transfer of services, properties and assets in areas to be annexed. This will be followed by a resolution by Council which sets the date for the registered voters in the proposed annexation area to decide on joining Seattle. The City can chose to hold a special election for the impacted voters (with opportunities in February and April) or join an existing ballot, such as the Primary Election in August and the General Election in November.
The City is targeting the August Primary Election ballot for the vote on the Sliver and would have until May 12th to make a submission to King County Elections for the resolution to make the ballot. The cost of the ballot is shared in the case of the Primary and General Election, since it would include multiple jurisdictions. Were the City to pursue a Special Election, the cost to the City would amount to between $1.25 to $1.50 per ballot – less than $150 total for the Sliver and about $13,000 for the White Center area.
Step 4 – Community Outreach/Education
Because State Law prohibits the City from promoting or opposing a ballot measure directly, the City would instead hold community outreach and education sessions to help residents and businesses in the area understand the financial and services impact.
According to the memo to City Council, these sessions have already started. However, presumably additional sessions will need to to occur in light of the fact that the Preliminary Financial Analysis is expected to be reperformed this year. Therefore, expect updated sessions with the latest financial impact assessment to happen between March and May of this year for the Sliver and sometime later for White Center as the annexation process continues.
Step 5 – The Vote
For the case of the Sliver, a simple majority vote will be required by the registered voters in the proposed area to approve annexation. This is because the City decided in the initial Notice of Intent (NOI) that property owners in that area would not need to assume a proportionate share of the City’s bonded indebtedness. However, for the White Center area this is not the case and therefore two votes will need to occur – one a simple majority vote on annexation, and the other a 60% majority vote on assuming the share of indebtedness.
If the annexation vote fails in either case, the city will need to wait an additional year to file a new NOI. It is not clear however, if the residents in favor of annexation in these areas could file their own petition before that time period to more quickly reboot the process.
Per current city projections, residents of the Sliver could be making their voices heard on the ballot on August 1st or November 7th of this year, with White Center following in 2018.
Step 6 – Discussions with Service Providers
This step, which has already begun, involves discussion with the service providers (fire, utilities, etc) on the impacts of annexation. A list of potential impacts is listed here. Certain service provider employees, such as firefighters, would be given an opportunity to transfer into the equivalent Seattle provider, carrying their seniority.
Step 7 – Establishing the Annexation Date
Once approved by the vote, the City must establish when the annexation goes into effect. The City will do so via an ordinance, which would be passed at City Council. The City plans on a January 1st date so as to coincide with the fiscal year and is targeting January 1st, 2018 for the Silver, while January 1st, 2020 is targeted for the North Highline/White Center area. Council President Bruce Harrell hinted during the committee meeting that the City may wish to accelerate the White Center date, although admitted that due to a number of new members in City Council, there was work to be done to get everyone up to speed on this matter.
Step 8 – Notification
Once the effective date of annexation has been established, the City must notify various governmental and private entities of the annexation to ensure that appropriate property taxes, state-shared revenues, and potential utility taxes from the annexed areas are transmitted to Seattle. This also allows the County Assessor to remove property tax levies associated with special purpose districts from the annexed properties. For residents in the annexed areas, a reduction in property taxes is expected if annexation is approved.
Expect to hear more about this issue in the coming months on this space, including monitoring for news on community meetings, ILA approval, and financial analysis updates required to put the Duwamish Sliver on the Seattle City Map.