Bothell annex debate heats up
Emergency services and taxation are among the issues driving rhetoric surrounding the Nov. 8 vote, which affects 22,000 people.
Once Nov. 8's votes are counted, they'll see how many neighbors share their vision.
"I am really pumped, I am really excited to be part of the city," said Mickie Gundersen, who for nearly 50 years has lived in the area near Hilltop Elementary School. "I want to say, 'Here I am. I'm home.' "
If Gundersen and her allies succeed, about 22,000 people and 5.6 square miles of land would become part of Bothell. That would extend the city into some areas historically associated with Brier, Lynnwood, Maltby and Alderwood Manor. The annexation would likely take effect in late 2012 or early 2013.
Some members of the fire service, however, have raised concerns about the adequacy of Bothell's planning for fire and emergency medical services. While city leaders stand by their plans, Snohomish County Fire District 1's Board of Commissioners this week voted to oppose the annexation.
Bothell straddles Snohomish and King counties. Its current population of about 33,000 is split more or less evenly between the two. Through a separate process, the city also is working to annex about 5,000 people from unincorporated King County.
The Snohomish County annexation affects three main areas: Hilltop, near Snohomish County Fire District 1's Hilltop Fire Station; Locust, the area near Locust Way on the west side of the annexation area; and an eastern area along 39th Avenue SE.
Annexation promises to lower property taxes but raise utility taxes. City officials are telling homeowners that costs will go down overall while they benefit from more services and a bigger voice in local government.
At the same time, the city and Fire District 1 disagree about whether Bothell's plan for providing emergency medical services would change the current quality of care.
Fire District 1 staffs paramedics on all calls. Paramedics have a higher level of training than the emergency medical technicians than Bothell has on all calls. Paramedics have the ability to administer drugs, start IVs and insert breathing tubes. EMTs do not.
Bothell sends out paramedics, too, but only on high-priority calls. District 1 commissioners say they are worried about the approximately 14 minutes it would take for those paramedics to reach the district's service area from their base in downtown Bothell.
Bothell's leaders say that their emergency medical system, which they share with King County, is just as effective. The fact that it's been used as a national model, they argue, demonstrates that. It's also less expensive to operate.
Bothell Fire Chief Bob Van Horne said the city's system may even have advantages, such as keeping paramedics free for where they're needed most, rather than tying them up on more routine calls.
In any event, Bothell has agreed to monitor how things are working if the annexation goes ahead.
"That's a bit of a risk and something you'd have to take on faith," Fire District 1 Commissioner Millie Judge said.
On Tuesday, the fire district's commissioners voted 4-1 to oppose the annexation. Judge was the only commissioner to vote against the resolution.
The district also wants the city to guarantee employment to 14 firefighters who stand to lose jobs after the city takes over the district's Hilltop station.
Bothell's city manager sent the district a letter calling the commissioners' vote "unfortunate." City leaders say they have tried to be transparent and accurate.
The district's commissioners also have objected to how the city website explains property taxes relating to Fire District 1.
In September, David Chan, chairman of the district's Board of Commissioners, wrote to Bothell Mayor Mark Lamb with his concerns, including that Bothell overstated the district's levy amount.
The county assessor's office confirmed Bothell's tax numbers are correct.
Chan's letter also says the city failed to provide a straightforward, line-by-line comparison of how annexation would affect fire- and emergency medical-related property taxes. City officials reject the idea that their charts are misleading.
"We are sensitive to the loss of territory that fire districts face with annexation," Bothell City Manager Bob Stowe said. "Citizens who want annexation are looking for the full range of high quality services -- including fire service -- that Bothell provides at a lower tax rate."
Meanwhile, Gundersen and her neighbors are eager to learn whether they'll be able to call Bothell home.
To pass, the annexation needs to win a simple majority of votes.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bothell annexation: comparing costs
The average property tax on a $400,000 house should go down for anybody who is annexed into Bothell. Taxes vary, based on a combination of junior taxing districts. Those include fire district (Snohomish County Fire District 1, 7 or 10), school district (Northshore or Edmonds) and whether a home is inside the Northshore Parks & Recreation Area (some are, some aren't).
Charts on the city's website, www.ci.bothell.wa.us, show the owner of a $400,000 house saving between $482 and $198 per year in taxes and fees combined.
While the tax bill would drop, many fees, though not all, would go up after annexation:
•Bothell would impose utility taxes that would average about $344 per year for most households. These are 5 percent to 6 percent utility taxes on gas, electric and cable bills. Other services that the city taxes, and Snohomish County doesn't, are phones, water, sewer and garbage.
Annexation would drop the annual surface water fee by $11.94, to $110.06 from $122.
The yearly cost of having a 35-gallon trash can picked weekly would drop to $161.52, from $281.40. Curbside trash pickup is mandatory in Bothell but not in the unincorporated areas. Waste Management would continue as the provider.
Auto-license costs would stay the same.
Police: City of Bothell Police Department instead of the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office.
Fire: Bothell firefighters and emergency medical workers instead of Snohomish County fire district 1 or 7.
Library district: Would change to King County from Sno-Isle.
•Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., people who favor annexation are hosting a meeting at Park Ridge Community Church on Maltby Road and 39th Avenue SE. Everybody is welcome, regardless of stance on annexation.
Oct. 19, from 6 to 8 p.m., city of Bothell meeting at Lockwood Elementary School, 24118 Lockwood Road.
Nov. 2, 6 to 8 p.m., city of Bothell meeting at Northlake Christian Church, 19029 North Road.
On the Web
Pro-annexation: www.bothellyes.com and newba.sagestudio.com.
Fire District 1: www. firedistrict1.org.
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