Residents discuss benefits of annexation to Issaquah
January 7, 2014
By Peter Clark
Brookshire Estates Homeowners Association President Dick L’Heureux likes to tell people he “takes a left and that’s the end of the story.”
By that, he means when he leaves his neighborhood and comes to a “T” junction at Issaquah-Pine Lake Road Southeast, he always turns toward Issaquah. As Klahanie potential annexation area residents vote whether to join Issaquah Feb. 11, reasons like L’Heureux’s and others determine how people decide.
If they choose to be annexed by Issaquah, Klahanie-area residents will pay less in taxes
“We took two districts and said this is what they’re paying the county and loaded it against what Issaquah pays,” Issaquah Finance Director Diane Marcotte said. “Basically, we sat down and said, ‘OK, if you come into Issaquah, payment to Fire District 10 goes away. Payment to the King County road fund goes away.’”
Because of the city’s robust commercial base, the property tax has remained low.
“We have the advantage of having a very successful commercial tax base,” Issaquah City Administrator Bob Harrison said. “We have one of the lowest tax rates in the state.”
For the homeowner of a $400,000 home, a Klahanie resident would expect to pay $500 less annually in property taxes than in King County.
“Three hundred eight-three dollars is the net savings,” Marcotte said. “When you include the utility tax they’ll have to pay, it’s more like $383.”
The assumption of Issaquah’s bonded indebtedness brought down the first annexation vote of 2005 and it continues to raise questions among residents. The first vote for Klahanie-area residents contained two decisions: whether to annex to Issaquah and whether to assume the city’s bonded indebtedness. The annexation passed with 67 percent, while residents only voted 49 percent to assume the debt.
“Issaquah seems to have the mentality of spending now and paying later,” Klahanie resident Mark Seely said. “Boundaries are moving around me and I don’t want to have to pay for that.”
City officials said assuming any debt would still lead to lower taxes.
“The bonded indebtedness is already included in your property tax bill, so it’s not like it’s an extra payment,” Harrison said. “The other piece is what it’s paying for is those assets in our community that people are already using, like City Hall. And it’s not like there’s any retroactivity. And those residents will benefit from this.”
Repairs and services
In October, King County announced snow removal would suffer in unincorporated areas due to a drop in tax revenues. The decision is another example of frustrations for area residents.
“When safety stuff needed repair, like crosswalks, then we started thinking, ‘Well, who does that stuff?’” Klahanie potential annexation area resident Rob Young said, adding that it took a few years for him and his wife to realize they were not a part of an incorporated city and would not receive an urban level of services.
“We kind of sweep our own roads, our HOA fixes our own sidewalks because of the dues that we pay,” Young said. “We all pay dues to make sure it stays maintained, but the county doesn’t have the money to fix the roads.”
Each neighborhood homeowners association decides the cost of dues and how to spend them. While dues would presumably be lower with Issaquah road maintenance, city officials confirmed each association would continue its current autonomy.
In search of a city to offer such services, Young successfully petitioned the Issaquah City Council in 2011 to again consider annexing the area.
Police and fire
The King County Sheriff’s Office handles law enforcement in the Klahanie area. Frustration with response times led homeowners associations to fund their own security personnel, who patrol neighborhoods.
“Their response time is not terribly good,” Seely said of the King County Sheriff’s Office. “My perspective is that they are usually very far away. Sammamish usually shows up first.”
Issaquah has pledged to bring law enforcement up to city levels. The city would add five more patrol officers to the department, increasing response time and police presence, according to an official study on annexation.
Eastside Fire & Rescue Deputy Chief of Operations Greg Tryon said the Klahanie area would see no change in fire service under annexation.
“The beauty of EFR is that there is no difference in service,” Tryon said. “The region remains whole and the service will not change as it remains now.”
He added that Klahanie-area residents would pay less. It now costs them $1.60 per $1,000 of assessed home value annually, while Issaquah pays $.98 per $1,000.
Tryon did say that the bond for Fire District 10 station improvements would still fall on the residents’ shoulders. Voters approved a 20-year $5.5 million bond in 2012 that will go to rebuild Station 78 and provide upgrades to other fire stations throughout the large district.
“The citizens voted in the bond two years ago and would continue to pay on that,” he said. “It will go to build and support other fire stations and services, and they’re still getting the benefit out of that.”
Issaquah officials say being annexed by the city would give Klahanie potential annexation area residents a greater voice in their surroundings.
“They’re a part of our community,” Harrison said. “They sit on our boards. The only thing they can’t do right now is vote and run for local office.”
Currently, residents must take their concerns to the King County Council in Seattle.
“We have a tradition of welcoming people into the community,” former Issaquah Mayor Ava Frisinger said. “People want to be able to speak to their elected representatives. That really close access to representation is really important to them.”
Throughout the process, representatives from Issaquah have said many times, “We’re a city of annexations.” Looking at previous annexations has provided a unique viewpoint on what Klahanie-area residents might expect.
“When South Cove came in, we invested in the overlay of their streets very quickly,” Harrison said. “And we would invest in the improvements that need to be done in Klahanie.”
Issaquah City Councilman Josh Schaer was the sole vote against requesting an annexation vote.
“I have a unique perspective as someone who comes from an annexation,” the South Cove resident said. “The numbers that I see don’t make sense and I came into this with an open mind.”
Though his objections deal largely with the cost to the city, which will be covered in this series’ next installment, he expressed frustration at Issaquah’s handling of his neighborhood through cable rates and neglected transportation improvements.
“I was sorely disappointed,” Schaer said. “Though, I do think it was a good deal for that annexed area overall.”
South Cove resident Tiffany Endres agreed with Schaer’s disappointment. She said neighborhood homeowners were led to believe the city would provide greater traffic control, speed humps, street maintenance and a walkway to Lake Sammamish State Park.
“We really didn’t get much more other than an extra patrol car coming through every once in a while and a street sweeper coming every once in a while,” she said.
“There are those who say, ‘South Cove did so well out of the annexation,’” Endres said. “Well, no, we didn’t.”
Some Klahanie-area residents remain unconcerned about how Issaquah might handle improvements.
“We’re realistic to understand that we will be a part of the whole here,” L’Heureux said.
While some feel stark differences exist between their sensibilities and Issaquah’s record.
“Issaquah has a big-city feel and is going for a big-city feel that doesn’t fit for me personally,” Seely said. “Is Issaquah going to do anything for Klahanie that they haven’t done for South Cove and the same for Providence Point? What are we going to get?”