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Voters reject annexation

Voters in the proposed East Federal Way annexation area made their opposition toward incorporation into Federal Way clear in Tuesday's primary election.

As of Aug. 22, 1,639 residents (65 percent of participating voters) in the unincorporated King County area voted against the ballot measure. Those voting "yes" for the measure numbered 884.

Voting came down to the differences in services provided, but also how knowledgeable residents were on the measure.

With King County feeling pressure to fulfill its obligation to provide both county and local services to those in unincorporated locations, the annexation was presented as a way to assure unincorporated residents continual and adequate local services.

Five informational meetings were held by the City of Federal Way, each detailing what could be expected to change and what would remain the same if voters were to approve the annexation.

Had the annexation passed, several services would have remained the same. The school, library, sewer, bus, animal control and fire and medical services would have experienced no alterations.

A handful of services — legislative representation, police, court, roads and permitting and zoning services — would have changed. A utility tax would also have been implemented.

As the primary election approached, police protection, taxes and land use were on many voters' minds. Some felt the additional 29 police officers the city planned to hire, had the annexation passed, were a needed presence.

Others felt the King County Sheriff's Office was up to par in handling the area's crime.

Future ballots

The decision as to whether to place the East Federal Way annexation on the ballot again will ultimately rest with the Federal Way City Council, management services director Iwen Wang said.

The city council did not discuss this move prior to the primary election, Mayor Mike Park said.

While Park believes unincorporated residents have made their feelings quite clear that they do not wish to incorporate, Wang notes that a mere 24.46 percent of registered voters weighed in on the issue.

Of the 10,468 voters registered to vote on the annexation, only 2,561 voted, according to the King County Records, Elections and Licensing Web site at www.kingcounty.gov/elections/.

If the city council members decide to discuss another annexation ballot measure, they will likely face a timeline.

Currently, the state and King County are both offering incentives for incorporating the East Federal Way annexation area. King County offered the city a total of $3.5 million to offset the cost of transitioning responsibility of providing services, said senior planner Isaac Conlen. This funding will decrease by 25 percent if the city does not annex before Jan. 1, 2009, he said.

Additionally, Federal Way would be allowed to keep up to .02 percent of its sales tax revenue — approximately $3 million — per year for 10 years to assist in operational costs of providing the services, Conlen said. After the 10 years, the city would be left to fend for itself in offering the services, he said.

Voters have spoken

Dale Fite, who has lived in the unincorporated area near South 354th Street for nearly 14 years, voted against the incorporation.

Fite is more than satisfied with the police services provided by the King County Sheriff, he said. He has a good relationship with the department, and the deputies are familiar with the area, he said. They respond in a timely manner and resolve disputes fairly, he said.

"We're not displeased with (the sheriff's office)," he said.

Fite does not want to pay for additional police protection that he feels is unneeded, he said. Employing 29 police officers, when only six to eight would be patrolling his area, made him feel as though his money was going to be used to solve Federal Way's existing problems — which for the most part do not affect him, he said.

Gary Fuller, who has owned a home near South 295th Place for 16 years, said police services were on his mind when he voted against the annexation. As he completed his errands, he kept seeing King County Sheriff's Office patrols, he said. He realized that he was comfortable with his current police services and was unsure if Federal Way could serve him comparatively.

"I know where these guys (King County Sheriff's Office patrols) are and who they are," Fuller said. "I want them to be here."

For both Fite and Fuller, taxes were a more significant issue to consider.

City officials were quick to point out at the five informational meetings that the only added tax residents in the unincorporated area would pay was a utility tax. This amount would have totaled roughly $305 annually for a home assessed at $250,000, according to a document labeled "Annexation: A Tax Comparison" that was provided by the city at its open houses and presented by management services director Iwen Wang.

Fite has his doubts about the tax information provided by the city, he said. He imagines that apartments and more housing would have eventually been built in the unincorporated area, forcing the city to construct roads to accommodate those living there. That would have put the burden of paying for those roads upon the city's residents, including himself, he said.

"I think that (the city) came in trying to not show what the taxes will be in the future." Fite said.

Another issue was on Fite's mind when he cast his vote. To some extent, Fite felt he did not know enough about the proposed annexation to make an educated decision.

He had questions as to who would provide his medical services, Fite said. He also was unaware of how police services would operate, he said. He was unable to attend any of the city's informational meetings because he was on vacation.

If the city puts the annexation on the ballot again, Fite hopes Federal Way will give unincorporated residents enough time to review the details of the measure, process and research the information, then return to ask more questions, he said.

"I don't think there was enough time," Fite said.

Contrary to Fite, Fuller has been aware of the proposed annexation for quite some time. He began paying attention to the issue years ago when the boundary lines were drawn between Auburn and Federal Way, he said.

Fuller identifies with Auburn, despite the fact that he works and shops in Federal Way. He would have preferred Federal Way to have taken a second look at the boundary lines for the proposed East Federal Way annexation, then reconsider what would be a good fit for the city, he said.

"I would think that having the entire west hill of Auburn be part of Auburn would make much more sense," Fuller said.

Fuller is disappointed in how Federal Way went about introducing the annexation measure, he said. The information given by the city was matter-of-fact, leading Fuller to distrust the city, he said.

If the East Federal Way annexation area were to be put on the ballot again, Fuller would prefer the measure be brought forth by property owners, he said.

Despite his opinion on the matter, Fuller is surprised by the outcome of the annexation vote. He thought it would pass two-to-one, he said.

"I don't know how (the city) blew it so bad," Fuller said.

The message appears to be clear that residents of the proposed East Federal Way annexation area would like to be left alone, Mayor Mike Park said.

Park said he would not like to see the annexation on the ballot again in the next election because such a large population voted against it.

"I don't know what happened, but a 65 percent vote is a very strong voice," Park said.

Federal Way and the proposed annexation area will continue to retain a close relationship, and King County will strive to provide the best services it can to the area, he said.

"I respect the decision they made," Park said of voters.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

To learn more about the annexation area and to view a map, visit the city's Web site at www.cityoffederalway.com. For more details on the annexation vote, visit www.kingcounty.gov/elections/.

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