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Annexation vote awaits its fate

Federal Way’s population rank may propel past Everett, and begin to nip at the heels of Bellevue’s population by 2008, if voters approve the annexation of east Federal Way later this month.

On Aug. 21, voters in unincorporated King County east of I-5 will decide whether to join Federal Way and increase the city’s size by 20,000 people and 4,400 acres. If approved, the annexation will take effect July 1, 2008.

As the primary election quickly approaches, residents in the area have a few main concerns on their minds. Primarily, residents want to know how their local services, land use policies, taxes and fees will be altered.

If an annexation occurs, many of the local services will not change, but police service will.

Additional enforcement would accompany the annexation. The city plans to hire 29 police officers if the measure passes. The officers would be able to serve the annexation area better than King County, said Police Chief Brian Wilson.

“We provide the best of the best in law enforement services,” he said.

Residents in east Federal Way could expect six to eight officers patrolling the annexation area at all times, Wilson said. Currently, King County has two to three sheriff deputies patrolling the same area, he said.

Police response times will increase if the annexation is approved, according to a handout titled “What about Police Services?” that was distributed at the city’s handful of informational meetings about the annexation.

Federal Way police respond up to 36 seconds faster to a critical dispatch call, including felony crimes in progress and shootings, within the city than the King County Sheriff does for a call of the same kind in the annexed area, according to 2005 data included in the same handout. They respond nearly seven minutes faster in an immediate dispatch call, including injury accidents and crimes in which a suspect may still be near, according to the handout.

Pros vs. cons

Tom Skoda resides in the proposed annexation area near Star Lake and plans to vote for the annexation in large part because he feels more police presence in his area would be beneficial, he said.

“The biggest thing is the safety factor,” Skoda said.

Recently, a neighbor of Skoda’s called 911 to report a burglary and it took police more than 20 minutes to arrive, Skoda said.

Jess Mueller lives in the proposed annexation area near South 301st Street. She is worried about the number of sex offenders and panhandlers she sees near her home, she said. She would like more police patrolling her area, she said.

“As far as I’m concerned, line up those cops, get them trained and get them ready,” Mueller said.

Jerry Galland also lives in the proposed annexation area, near Lake Geneva. He does not consider east Federal Way high in crime, nor does he feel the additional police presence is needed there, he said. The city is trying to get people to vote for the annexation by promising an increase in safety, which may not be needed, he said.

“Police services is the big thing being sold,” Galland said.

He suspects the additional police officers will be put in place primarily for monitoring and enforcing city codes rather than increasing safety, he said.

If residents choose to annex into Federal Way, they will be expected to abide by the city’s land use codes. This appeals to Mueller, who has a neighbor with junk cars in her yard. The debris is a safety and health hazard, Mueller said. Additionally, Mueller worries her neighbor’s unkempt yard decreases the property values of nearby homes.

“When we become Federal Way, the first call I’ll start making is to enforce those codes to start maintaining your home,” Mueller said.

Galland views these regulations differently. He enjoys living in a rural area. He and his wife spent spent years searching for the perfect property before finding it in east of Federal Way. He enjoys the freedom to do what he wishes with his land.

The city should not be able to dictate what he can or cannot do on his property, he said. If a neighbor wants to have junk cars in his or her yard, he or she has the right to do so, Galland said.

“I consider the city to be a confining situation,” he said.

Charging people for using their land in a way the city does not approve of does not seem right to Galland.

People at the city’s Aug. 2 informational meeting at Rainier Elementary School about the annexation showed an interest in the taxes and fees they would be expected to pay if their unincorporated area became part of Federal Way.

Iwen Wang, management services director, assured they would not experience a significant increase in taxes as a result of incorporation. Currently, King County collects a road tax fee from residents in east Federal Way. The city does not charge this type of tax, Wang said.

The city has a utility tax in place, which the county does not have. For a home with an assessed value of $250,000, this tax would cost about $305, according to data titled “Annexation: A tax comparison” provided by the city at the meeting.

Dollars and sense

A slight difference in property taxes between incorporated and unincorporated Federal Way is present. City residents pay $11.42 per $1,000 of their home’s assessed value, while unincorporated King County residents pay $12.03 per $1,000 of their home’s assessed value, according to Wang. Incorporation would save proposed annexation residents 61 cents per $1,000 of the assessed value of their home.

Garbage services are optional. For those residing north of South 304th Street, these services are slightly more expensive, due to the garbage provider, than for residents living south of South 304th Street.

Overall, if residents choose to receive garbage services, people residing north of S. 304th Street would save $90 per year based on a home assessed at $250,000 by choosing to annex, according to the city handout. People residing south of S. 304th Street would experience a savings of $7 based on a home assessed at the same value, according to the same data.

Washington state and King County are offering Federal Way incentives to annex east Federal Way. King County will provide the city with $3.5 million, with $1 million dedicated to road improvements in the unincorporated area, to

offset the cost of transitioning the responsibility of providing services from the county to the city, said Isaac Conlen, senior planner.

County funding will be decreased by 25 percent if the city does not annex the area before Jan. 1, 2009, Conlen said.

Additionally, the state would allow Federal Way to keep up to .02 percent of its sales tax revenue per year for 10 years to assist in operational costs of providing the services, Conlen said. The city predicts this amount will border on $3 million per year, he said. State funding would be offered for 10 years.

After this time, the city will no longer receive funding to maintain the services in what is now east Federal Way, Conlen said. The city plans to rely on sales and property tax revenue to cover the costs of providing services to the city, including the previously unincorporated area, Conlen said. State funding is only available if the annexation occurs before Jan. 1, 2010, Conlen said.

Mueller recognizes the state’s growing economy and population. She feels east Federal Way should annex now while the state and county are offering the city subsidies to do so, she said.

“(The money) is a help to a city that is growing,” Mueller said.

Galland fears the quality of life he experiences now will fade away, he said. He anticipates that slowly, residents in the proposed annexation area will begin to see the land become more dense. He worries they will come to regret their decision to incorporate into the city, he said.

“It’s a nice rural area,” Galland said. “We’d like to see it stay that way.”

Elissa Benson, supervisor of the King County Annexation Initiative, reminded those in attendance at the city’s Aug. 2 meeting that residents in east Federal Way had the final say in whether to annex.

“This is your choice and that’s a key aspect of things,” Benson said.

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

County goal

Due to its financial struggles in providing both regional services countywide and local services to residents the approximately 215,000 people residing in unincorporated King County, the county has an annexation initiative in place. The goal is to see the remaining 10 unincorporated areas in King County annexed into a city by 2012, Senior Planner Isaac Conlen said. Annexation will call for the city to provide local services, allowing the county to better focus on offering regional services.

According to the county’s voters pamphlet, residents in King County have and will continue to experience depleted regional services in the coming years unless cities are able to annex the unincorporated locations and provide local services. Visit the county’s Web site at www.metrokc.gov/annex/default.aspx to learn more about the King County Annexation Initiative.

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