Taking sides: Bothell annexation

Vote Yes (Jump to the Vote No argument)Why join us? It’s simple: You’ll get more for less

By Mark Lamb

Over the past decade, residents in the North, East and West (NEWBA) area in unincorporated Bothell have engaged in a conversation about their future — how do they get better government services, and more control over their tax dollars and decision making. From this discussion among neighbors conducted over many years, a consensus emerged that annexation to Bothell was the best way to get more responsive, locally committed government.

State law provides that citizens who wish to become part of a city have the right to petition that city to request it. This is exactly what happened two years ago when more than 1,000 NEWBA residents petitioned the City Council to become part of Bothell. It was in response to this grassroots request to join our city that our City Council initiated the public process provided for in state law for annexation. This process has involved dozens of public meetings, written outreach and two boundary review board hearings.

The Snohomish County Boundary Review Board is a nonpartisan, neutral body charged under state law with evaluating annexation proposals. The board heard hours of arguments from the City of Bothell, Snohomish County, and every fire district in the NEWBA. It unanimously approved the annexation proposal, which allowed the citizens’ request for an election to finally move forward last year.

Last November’s NEWBA annexation vote was extremely close (a change in just 200 votes out of more than 7,100 cast would have turned the result) but obviously a bare majority of residents were unconvinced annexation was the right move at that time. Many of these same voters were stunned when just two days after the annexation election Fire District One announced it faced a $3 million deficit and was laying off nine employees, and again in January when the district delivered layoff notices to four firefighters.

These events prompted another petition from NEWBA residents to the City Council desiring the benefits of lower taxes and better services Bothell has to offer and a new election where voters have the benefit of all relevant information. The City of Bothell listened, improved its annexation proposal, and on April 17 NEWBA residents will have another opportunity to vote on annexation to the city.

Here’s what’s different this time and why annexation still makes sense.

Lower taxes

Extensive financial analysis confirms annexation will reduce taxes for NEWBA residents because two taxes they currently pay — fire district taxes and county road district taxes — would be replaced by a lower city tax which pays for high-quality city services.

Bothell does collect utility taxes (which counties are lobbying Olympia for the authority to impose as well) but for the average household in the proposed annexation area, even the combination of property and utility taxes would still be much lower in the city than under Snohomish County’s jurisdiction.

This means the average NEWBA property owner will see nearly a $300 reduction in taxes from what they currently pay Snohomish County. In fact, Bothell has one of the lowest property tax rates in Washington. Among 281 cities, more than 230 have higher tax rates than Bothell. As Snohomish County Council member and taxpayer advocate John Koster said recently, “I have spent my career in public service fighting for local control and lower taxes; the Bothell annexation achieves both goals.”

Voters in this area may choose to vote for or against annexation for other reasons, but the fact is that annexation into Bothell would be a tax cut for the vast majority of residents who own their own home.

Better services

There are a number of reasons why taxes are lower and you get still better service in Bothell.

First, there are economies of scale as the city has one human resources department, one finance department, one administrative office to support the full range of city services rather than multiple agencies each with their own administrative overhead.

Second, tax revenues that are raised in a community stay in the community rather than being spread across a larger geographic area of a county and often subsidizing service for others in the county. This also results in more public safety personnel per square mile and quicker response than from regional service providers that are stretched over many more miles.

Third, the city is a smaller and leaner organization that takes great pride in being efficient and effective in delivering services valued by the community. Existing Bothell residents experience the above benefits first-hand from living in a city and new residents joining Bothell can expect the same.

Currently three fire districts serve the unincorporated NEWBA area: Fire Districts 10, 7 and 1. For roughly 40 percent of those who live in the NEWBA area and Fire District 10, Bothell already provides their fire service. The lowest existing tax rate in the NEWBA fire districts is in Fire District 10, which contracts with Bothell to provide the excellent fire service those in District 10 enjoy today, further evidence of the high quality, efficient and cost-effective service Bothell provides with lower tax rates.

Commitment to paramedics and Station 22

Responding to community feedback from those in the other two Fire Districts in the NEWBA, the city will bolster fire services by staffing Station 22, on Damson Road, with firefighter/paramedics.

In response to Fire District 1’s stated request for a legally binding commitment to Station 22, the city has further memorialized its previous actions and signed an interlocal agreement that creates a commitment by the city and Fire District 1 to fully staff Fire Station 22 (e.g., keeping it open for a minimum of five years and staffing it with firefighters and paramedics) — whichever entity is responsible for the area following the April 17 annexation vote.

This agreement was delivered to Fire District 1 for its consideration and, unfortunately, last week the district’s commission met in a special meeting and rejected this commitment by the city without offering an alternative agreement or providing any legally enforceable commitment to keeping Station 22 open.

So, why annexation now?

Due to the community’s expressed interest in another vote, the City Council opted to put the issue back on the ballot on April 17 for a number of reasons.

First, the timing allows voters to focus on annexation issues exclusively, undistracted by other electoral races for president, congressional seats and governor.

Second, citizens have the opportunity to examine the full benefits of annexation along with new evidence that has been revealed about the financial strengths and liabilities of the respective taxing districts.

Finally, an April election provides the city with the best opportunity to access annexation assistance funds for the NEWBA area provided by the state, if needed by the city, to implement the Growth Management Act. Waiting to act on an annexation election puts these funds at risk.

Opponents of annexations in the collective bargaining units of junior taxing districts claim that they do not oppose all annexations but merely want “responsible” annexations. In truth they have never met an annexation they liked and it is the height of irresponsibility to delay a Growth Management Act obligation to some unknown future date when no state funds will be available to offset one-time start-up costs.

Despite a tough economic environment, Bothell continues to thrive. The city has won four statewide awards for fiscal stewardship, urban planning and economic development. In addition, it has one of the highest municipal bond ratings, a reflection of its prudent policies and responsible stewardship of our residents’ tax dollars. While other jurisdictions raised taxes on their citizens and cut public safety during the recession, Bothell cut utility tax rates and built up its reserves in good times so that the city could move forward in the Great Recession with projects when costs were lower.

As mayor, I am proud that I live in the youngest part of our 103-year-old city, which came in with the last annexation in the early 1990s. My neighbors and I appreciate the small town feel and world class educational and employment opportunities that Bothell offers. While lower taxes and better services are strong incentives, it is ultimately this sense of local community and the opportunity for NEWBA residents to have a stronger voice in determining their future that is the greatest benefit of joining Bothell.

To those residents I say, welcome to Bothell!

Mark Lamb is serving his fourth term as mayor of the City of Bothell. For more on the city’s view of the annexation proposal, visit http://bit.ly/rn9kqH.

Vote NoBothell isn’t listening to what the people want

By Bud NcCorchuk

Here Bothell goes again. Bothell is not listening to the will of the people. Mayor Mark Lamb says he has heard from the people, but how about the 3,700 (the majority) who said no in November? He is listening only to what he wants to hear.

You want facts?

The mayor says that Washington state has money for Bothell if the annexation is approved. Here is what it is called: the Washington State Sales Tax Credit. The state will give the city two-tenths of one percent for all of the taxable sales in the city for the next 10 years. Free money! Of course, you and I pay for it anyway.

In October 2011 the governor proposed removing this free money as part of her $2 billion cost-cutting measure. This money can be voted away by the Legislature at any session. There is a deadline for this and that is why Bothell is in such a hurry and having no regard for the citizen’s vote. That is $2 million a year and equates to about $5,700 a day.

By law, Bothell will have to convince the state that after they annex the area they cannot support the municipal services required to that new area. It’s true — they have to beg and show the state they cannot afford it and in the meantime, the people suffer.

Look at it yourself at http://1.usa.gov/x90us4. On the website www.bothellno.com you will see the very report that Bothell is using to convince the state. It is call the Berk Report, followed by an analysis call the Young Evaluation. Facts.

Roll the dice on the future? Fiscally responsible? Is gambling that the Legislature will always have that money municipal excellence? I think not, on all accounts. Is this the way Bothell politics go? The poor citizens are always the losers.

Here is where it gets creepy and fishy. Bothell decides to add to the City Council agenda a vote to put the annexation on the ballot. They added it at the last minute, on the day of the council meeting. Bothell tried to pull a fast one and it will not work. The vote was taken to put it on the ballot and the very next morning the “Yes Annexation” signs went up all over the area. Collusion? I think there are some ethics issues here.

Fire District 1 has always been the leader in the county on how to run a fire department. Their cutbacks are in response to the economy and to be fit and trim for the possibly of joining a Regional Fire Authority (RFA). The RFA is described at www.firedistrict1.org.

In a nutshell, the RFA would regionalize the emergency services for a better bang for your buck. It was discussed at the Bothell City Council meeting where they promised to send two representatives to the RFA talks. Since then Bothell has removed themselves from the discussions and are content building their own kingdom.

I am telling you, they do not play well with Snohomish County. There are currently no interlocal agreements (ILA) signed with any of the Snohomish County agencies. Bothell will fight fires and do medical services with its King County buddies. Look at the map, you will become one of Bothell’s poor northend citizens if this happens. Fact.

The last two times the Bothell Yes camp got hung up on the fire service side of this, and particularly with Fire District 1. There are many more issues, but first, did you know that Station 22 was originally going to be closed and become a police station? We were outraged; again no regard was shown for the citizens. Then it was going to remain open with staffing but no paramedics and no guarantees. Now it is going to have paramedics? Really, whose idea was that? Their policy-making is reactionary, not proactive. It was a better idea to leave well enough alone.

Bothell’s plan was to “brown out” (half-staff) Station 45 and Station 73. Nobody does that — again, cost-cutting measures to save a buck at the expense of the citizens. I am an eyewitness to those facts and nobody in the city can deny them. So when you say that the www.bothellno.com people do not have the facts, I challenge you to visit the website and see for yourself. The Yes people I have talked to have never visited our website. What are they afraid of?

Other issues

Look at the tax numbers Bothell supplies. They do not include the wonderful utility taxes that we enjoy not paying here in the county. Kirkland and Marysville are a year ahead of Bothell in this annexation process and they cannot afford it. Again, see the www.bothellno.com website for those articles. Kirkland’s water utility tax is 13.8 percent and all the other utilities are 10.5 percent or greater.

Bothell says the average house is $400,000 in value so that is the number on which they base their taxes. Those same numbers do not work so well when you use a house with a value of $300,000.

Garbage service and sewer hook-ups would be mandatory. Follow the money and you will learn a lot.

If their taxes don’t get you, their fees will. Look through Bothell’s Fee Schedule (20 pages) and Municipal Code (bit.ly/wjx3y0). It is mind-boggling to see all of the money required to be a citizen in Bothell.

If our data are correct, the city has spent a large six-figure amount on this campaign — that is not your money, it came from the city residents. It will cost the City of Bothell $35,000 to put it on the ballot again this April 17. What a waste.

No effort has been made to contact or address any of the concerns of the opposition. Again, it is a pattern of total disregard for the interests of the very group they are trying to reach.

There is so much more to learn at www.bothellno.com. Take a minute and use the democratic process to it fullest. Look objectively at both sides, then make a decision.

Bud NcCorchuk is treasurer for Citizens for Responsible Annexation (www.bothellno.com).

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