Letters to the Editor

Annexation public hearing flawed

Sometime soon, Kirkland will submit the minutes from the annexation public hearing conducted recently. The hearing may be flawed. I am submitting my concerns to Kirkland and you for your consideration to be included in the file:

The Mayor showed little respect for procedure and unfortunately the citizens of Kirkland. Kirkland has always used a standard procedure when taking testimony at public hearings. There was no time limit for each speaker. The Council has the authority to change that procedure. But the Mayor alone changed the procedure without asking council if it was OK with them.

It makes me believe the Council had already made up their mind about annexation and wanted to prevent any public input that would interfere with what they wanted. After all, they had an April 8 deadline to submit their minutes of the meeting to the Boundary Review Board. The annexation public hearing had to come first. If they conducted a regular public meeting before the public hearing, they could not approve the minutes and still meet the deadline. The entire process was staged, rigged, and controlled to produce a certain outcome regardless of what was said at the hearing. I also suspect the minutes were almost done before the meeting ended.

During the hearing, I found out I would be prevented from speaking longer than three minutes. If that happened, I was advised I could submit my comments in writing for the Council’s consideration, which I did before they closed the public hearing. The council then proceeded to take a vote after a short break and it was short. I doubt if my concerns were ever considered. If so, that was a violation of process. Evidently the council didn't care because they had their minds already made up.

Here’s the written copy I submitted to the Council. If each Councilmember didn't read all of it, they may be in violation of the Open Public Meeting Act. Councilmembers cannot hide or prevent information from the other Councilmembers. It may take depositions to prove it. If found to be in violation, the Mayor is to blame.

Annexation Key Issues

Honorable Councilmembers:

I want to thank you for this opportunity for the public to speak on annexation. It’s important the public be heard. That said; I also am critical of you for not giving us a chance for an advisory vote on the ballot. Anything said at a public hearing can be used as the basis for a decision. Therefore, no matter what is said at this hearing, you can still control the outcome regardless of what people say. I believe if it were not for the public hue and cry for a voice in annexation, you would not be having this hearing. We still will not be given a chance to vote. I can only hope you honor the majority of citizens who do not want annexation..

When considering annexation, you should ask, “How are the citizens of Kirkland that we represent being affected?”

The first consideration should be the cost to the citizens in money and services.

Only a politician would believe that increasing the size of Kirkland by 70 percent would not add to the cost It has to go up. Staff needs to be hired, buildings built, and equipment purchased. Fortunately, Councilmembers Greenway, Hodgson, Asher, and Lauinger know and have rejected the added cost for fewer services. So far at least, Councilmembers Sternoff, McBride, and Burleigh evidently don't care about the cost.

If it’s too costly for the County with its larger tax base to provide services, why is it not too costly for Kirkland? It doesn't make sense.

Annexation would require us to take on obligations that we would otherwise not be required to do. That gets expensive because some Councilmembers believe all government services are essential. The Council needs to define “core” services that must have a sustainable budget. If and when they do, they will find out we do not have the means to provide all the non-essential services people ask for in or outside the city without adversely affecting our ability to maintain and improve our quality of life.

The tax load has not been equitable between the PAA, Kirkland citizens, and the County. Citizens have already paid for the annexation studies, not the PAA. We will pay for their election and continue to pay for almost all of the new services for at least a year or more before Kirkland gets sufficient revenues from the PAA to ease the load. We will pay the rest. After a couple of years, both the citizens in the PAA and Kirkland will experience a large increase in taxes to pay for capital facilities.

The 10-year tax reimbursement for annexation from the State is based on sales tax. Sales tax has declined drastically. It’s not what it used to be when the reimbursement provision was enacted. Depending on how clever cities and the state are in budgeting, the $4 million a year reimbursement may be a pipe dream. Even if the full amount were received, it’s still short $800,000 of covering the entire cost. In 10 years when the reimbursement goes away, the debt will have grown to more than $23 million dollars.

Will existing services be eliminated , reduced, or diluted? Politicians, particularly Councilmembers Sternoff, McBride, and Burleigh Staff say no. Councilmember McBride says there’s not a deficit. If you believe that, us citizens are in serious trouble. This hearing will not change the minds of Ms. McBride or Ms. Burleigh. It may have an influence on Sternoff. He should be asked, “How are the citizens of Kirkland that he represents being affected?”

The pro-annexation politicians say services may not be affected. Until staff, equipment, and space are increased to handle the additional workload, services will not be the same. We will be paying more for less. Will our politicians accept what we already know or will they ignore the facts?

The first study of annexation revealed a greater impact than what is now proposed. When the original figures were known, the shock hit the fan. Since then, staff has been constantly directed to revisit their projections until they get it right. They've already done it several times before as urged by Councilmembers Sternoff, McBride, and Burleigh.

They are finding out it’s impossible get rid of the debt without serious consequences. From the original estimate till now, what has happened is reflected in what the Police Chief said in the first study. Back then this is what he said about annexation. “…(it) would dramatically decrease the level of services we are now able to provide the citizens we currently service.” That’s a quote. I like the Police Chief. He is a great man who knows what he’s doing. However, like other department heads, he does what he is told. He revisited his numbers. From the original 5 patrols he proposed for the PAA, to four, and now three, he says he’s got it covered without reducing services. He doesn't say services would be the same as they would have been in the initial study. Citizens will end up paying more for less not only for police but almost every thing else.

To prevent a drain on our budget, it would be easier if the city could provide reduced services to the PAA while keeping current services the same for existing citizens? We would end up with 2 Kirkland’s; something several Councilmembers have said was not acceptable. It also may bring up lawsuits especially if the reduced services resulted in harm.

Currently, services levels very throughout the city vary because service shortages can be managed. When doing so, services in other areas are redirected as needed leaving a temporary void. Managing resources that way is like robbing Peter to pay Paul and hoping nothing happens in the meantime.

Do the reasons for annexation override the budget considerations? I think not. The group OneKirkland says it’s only logical for the PAA to annex to Kirkland because they use Kirkland facilities, work in Kirkland, and shop in Kirkland. Using the same logic, does that mean Kirkland should become part of Bellevue or Redmond just because we use their facilities, work or shop there? They also say by increasing the number of people in Kirkland it will reduce the amount each one of us has to pay. We will all share the cost. There is only one scenario that supports that argument, the lowest of the 6 budget scenarios that all show an increasing debt. They argue annexation would not seriously increase the debt, yet one of their worse case annexation scenarios has a deficit of $16 million in 5 years, $26 million in 15 years. It means huge increases in taxes for everyone in Kirkland and the PAA. Our taxes will go through the roof with the blessing from Councilmembers McBride and Burleigh. I still have hope for Councilmember Sternoff. He did vote against our current budget saying it was too high. He and the other Councilmembers need to be convinced that raising taxes to accommodate annexation is not what is best for the citizens of Kirkland.

And what kind of representation will we have if we annex? Each of our 7 Councilmembers now represents 6,857 people. It will grow to 11,632. The voice of existing citizens may be drowned out and it will become more difficult to serve individuals.

If the PAA annexed, they would have to form a neighborhood association in order to compete with existing associations that influence government decisions. Neighborhood associations are very important. They keep the elected officials informed. Yet, they will become another small group of a few attempting to control the lives of many in and outside of their associations. All city residents should receive the same services regardless if they belong to an association or not.

Some elected officials say they will have more power in regional affairs and a greater chance to enhance Kirkland’s citizen’s way of life if we annex. Just how much has regional affairs affected the citizens of Kirkland? What have citizens gained in regional affairs and what have we given up to get it?

The sales tax in King County is now 9.5%. And why? For a train we may never get.

We have accepted the county’s growth rate for Kirkland when we did not have to, but we did anyway. It caused problems. It reduced our ability to maintain and enhance our quality of life. Regional thinking causes suburban lots look like Seattle lots – smaller and closer together. We have more traffic congestion and less parking. Crimes will go up. There will be a greater demand for social services.

Regional politics requires us to subsidize Seattle stadiums, Seattle’s failure to separate sewer from storm water, and Seattle’s trains. We were promised trains. Where are they? The RTA is millions over budget as is King County’s Brightwater sewer treatment plant being financed with a lot of our money. Is that good for Kirkland citizens? No but it sure is if you don't live in Kirkland and are subsidized using regional money. If we go to regional meetings, we should insist we push for projects that benefit Kirkland without giving away the farm. I contend our participation in regional groups for the most part has resulted in us giving up more than we have received.

Our elected official should work for us, not someone else.. Change makes it more difficult to we keep what we have. But change is inevitable and when it comes, it should first protect what we have and then enhance it, not degrade it. I would hope the 4 Councilmembers would not change their minds about annexation thereby doing what’s best for the people they serve. I would like to see Councilmember Sternoff listen to the people and do the same.

Robert L. Style, Kirkland

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