Taxes are key in N. Highline debate
If the North Highline area were to incorporate and become Washington's newest city, its residents and businesses would generate about $11.3 million in tax revenue every year, according to a study released last week.
If North Highline became part of Burien, North Highliners would pay about $10.8 million annually to the city of Burien.
If Seattle annexed North Highline, the community would pay an estimated $10.6 million to the city of Seattle.
It takes a lot of money for a city to build streets and sidewalks, pay a police force, maintain sewer and water systems, care for parks and the multitude of other municipal duties.
That's why tax revenue is a prominent issue as North Highline residents think about what the future holds for White Center, Boulevard Park, Shorewood, Top Hat, Salmon Creek and adjacent neighborhoods.
The North Highline Unincorporated Area Council ordered a study earlier this year of the financial impacts of incorporation and annexation.
It was done by Nesbitt Planning & Management Inc. and the findings were presented to about 50 people attending a July 21 meeting of the council at St. Bernadette's School in Burien.
A public survey of more than 1,500 North Highline residents was conducted during May by The Connections Group.
The tax-revenue study revealed how tax rates differ among the cities. The business-and-occupation tax in Seattle is much higher than in Burien, for example. The tax is taken as a percentage (often 0.002 percent) of a business' gross receipts that take in more than $20,000 a year.
The Nesbitt study indicated that if North Highline joined Burien, its businesses would pay a total of $102,800 in business-and-occupation tax because Burien's rate is 0.0005 percent.
On the other hand, Seattle has a .00415 percent business-and-occupation tax, so North Highline businesses would pay Seattle an estimated $766,000.
If North Highline formed its own city, it could collect $411,000 in business-and-occupation taxes.
Other differences are evident for utility taxes. Cities can add a 6 percent tax to charges for telephones, cellphones and pagers. Cities can also get a percentage of electricity, natural gas, water, drainage, sewer, garbage pickup and even cable TV bills.
If North Highline incorporated into its own city, it could collect about $4.3 million a year in utility taxes. If it joined Burien, North Highline would pay $2.8 million. Utility taxes would cost North Highline residents and business owners $6 million if they joined Seattle.
Meanwhile Burien city officials at the meeting explained what their own studies have revealed about the possibility of annexing North Highline.
A tax study was done by Nesbitt Planning & Management Inc., in addition to a public-opinion survey of the North Highline residents conducted by The Connections Group.
Burien officials said the average North Highline homeowner currently pays $2,608 in local taxes. Their annual local tax bill would be $2,644 if they became part of the city of Burien and $2,841 if North Highline was annexed by Seattle. One of the most expensive components of local government is law enforcement and the cities of Burien and Seattle would both lose money policing North Highline, according to Burien city officials.
If Burien annexed all of North Highline, it would cost Burien $2.4 million more than what the city would collect in additional taxes from North Highline. Annexing just a portion of North Highline would still put Burien about $1.1 million in the red.
Burien officials' calculations showed the city of Seattle would be about $870,000 in the hole if North Highline became part of Seattle and was patrolled by Seattle police.
If North Highline became part of Burien, there would be no reduction in police services, said Burien Police Chief Scott
Burien would keep a police officer assigned to Evergreen High School, he said. It's unknown whether the storefront offices operated by the Sheriff's Department would continue, Kimerer added.
Currently the King County Sheriff's Department has reciprocity with officers of the Seattle Police Department along the boundary between Seattle and White Center. That means both agencies can chase criminals across Roxbury Street into each other's jurisdiction.
However, if North Highline joined Burien, that reciprocity would end because King County deputies have jurisdiction throughout the county while the powers of Burien police end at the city limits.
Providing fire protection also draws down either city's treasury. Burien would spend about $328,000 more for fire service than it would take in. It would go about $119,000 in the red if only part of North Highline was added to Burien.
The city of Seattle would be set back about $1.5 million providing fire protection to North Highline.
The public opinion survey of North Highline residents was conducted with the aid of translators working in six languages.
About 43 percent of people said North Highline ought to remain unincorporated as it is now.
Approximately 21 percent prefer to join Burien and 17 percent want to be annexed by Seattle.
Less than 4 percent wanted to incorporate and form a new city. About 3 percent wanted another option, such as joining SeaTac or Tukwila.
Just over 1 percent want none of the options and more than 12 percent answered "don't know."
Even though most people said they want to remain unincorporated, they recognize that ultimately the community will have to have some kind of municipal government, said Cathy Allen of The Connections Group.
Age was the biggest determining factor when it came to which city to join. Younger respondents (age 18 to 44) said they would prefer joining Seattle, while older people said Burien is their choice.
"That surprised me," Allen said. Another difference showed up among people of different education levels. Respondents without a high school diploma, high school graduates, college attendees and college graduates all preferred joining Burien.
Yet people who'd done post-graduate work in college preferred being annexed by Seattle. If there was one aspect of the opinion survey about which people expressed some passion it was that they did not want to be part of Seattle, Allen said.
People questioned during the survey proved to be more knowledgeable about future governance of North Highline than the surveyors expected, Allen said.
"The number one question was, 'What's it gonna cost me?'" she told the audience. "The next question was, 'Do I pay the monorail tax?'"