Annexation: Lawsuit targets state and governor over Senate bill's language

A local resident is taking a stand against new legislation that grants jurisdictions to annex unincorporated areas — bypassing a public vote on the subject.

Senate Bill 5808 is designed to give fire district employees notice of change in employment, such as hires, separations and terminations, as a result of an annexation, according to the bill. But tucked into the body of the legislation — section 7 — is language that allows jurisdictions to annex without voter approval. If the city, county and serving fire district/department all sign an inter-local agreement, an annexation may proceed. The issue must only be put to voters if the fire district does not agree to the terms of the annexation.

Gerald Galland, who resides in the East Federal Way potential annexation area, filed an injunction May 8 against the state. The bill, as it perceives to fire districts and their duties following an annexation, is without flaws, Galland said. But section 7 introduces a new subject to the bill and violates the Washington State Constitution, article two, section 19, which states, "No bill shall embrace more than one subject, and that subject shall be expressed in the title," Galland said.

"(The Legislature) took the spiel regarding fire department personnel and assets and the effects on those as a result of an annexation, and they logrolled procedures for annexation by ordinance without referendum — clearly stated," Galland said. "There's no misinterpretation here."

The lawsuit names the state, Gov. Christine Gregoire, Lt. Gov. Brad Owen and Rep. Frank Chopp (D-43rd District) as defendants. The lawsuit seeks to have the language allowing for annexation without referendum stricken from the bill.

"While (citizens) were quietly maintaining their world, their representatives were selling them into a situation by taking away their vote," Galland said.

Previously, annexation could be proposed by a city and voted upon by unincorporated residents, or brought about by a public petition signed by the majority of voters within the annexation boundaries. Federal Way City Council and staff have not declared an intention to capitalize on the bill, but the city and fire district were in agreement on the issue in 2007, when the city attempted to annex by way of public vote. The bill is the perfect set-up for a second annexation attempt by Federal Way, Galland said.

Failed attempt

In 2007, the city tried to annex East Federal Way. Approximately 20,000 citizens reside within the 4,400-acre boundary. An overwhelming 65 percent chose to remain unincorporated. Citizens cited taxes, police services and property rights as reasons they rejected annexation. Many did not want to pay utility taxes. Some felt the proposed 29 additional police officers were either not needed, or would not make a significant difference. Several were opposed to the city's codes.

"Once you're inside the city, the city ordinances are much more restrictive of the property owner," Galland said. "The effect of being inside a city is the effect of having Big Brother watching over you all the time."

Annexation benefits

In accordance with the Growth Management Act, jurisdictions across the state have worked diligently in the past few years to annex unincorporated areas. Locally, King County is struggling to provide comprehensive services to unincorporated pockets throughout the county. Successfully annexing these areas into established cities relieves the county of its duties to serve residents in those locations with services, such as police.

The county offered Federal Way $3.5 million, with $1 million dedicated to road improvements in the unincorporated area, to offset the cost of transitioning services during the last annexation attempt. If the city annexes before 2010, it will receive $2.6 million. Additionally, the Legislature recently extended an offer, which formerly expired in 2010, until 2015 that allows cities incorporating 20,000 or more people to keep two-tenths of a percent of their sales and use taxes for 10 years, according to Senate Bill 5321.

Former city manager Neal Beets made his staff and the city council aware of the annexation bill and asked them to consider its impacts, but the city has not deliberated about the issue since that time, city spokeswoman Linda Farmer said. The city council is instead focusing on finding a new city manager and the budget, she said. Farmer said annexation will be a topic in the future. However, that does not mean annexation is a for-sure deal. Despite the state's incentives, annexing may not be worth the money it will cost to uphold East Federal Way, Farmer said.

"We'd really have to dive in and look seriously at it," she said. "It's not a given because it may not pencil out financially."

Following the vote, former mayor and current city council member Mike Park said the city had no plans to attempt annexation again in the near future due to the fact that so many residents voted against the measure.

"I don't know what happened, but a 65 percent vote is a very strong voice," Park said at the time. "I respect the decision they made."

Check it out

Read the bill in its entirety by clicking here.

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