Sammamish makes offer to Klahanie-area residents
January 14, 2014
By Ari Cetron
The Sammamish City Council is trying to make the Klahanie annexation area an offer it can’t refuse.
The council voted unanimously Jan. 7 that if the Klahanie area does not vote to be absorbed into Issaquah, Sammamish will “fast track” an annexation of its own. It also made a laundry list of promises for what types of services it would provide Klahanie-area residents if they were to enter Sammamish.
“We would endeavor to have a vote of the Klahanie area as soon as possible,” Councilman Don Gerend said.
The Klahanie area, a roughly triangular area of two square miles, sits wedged between Sammamish and Issaquah, but isn’t part of either city. Both cities have expressed an interest in annexing the area, and its roughly 11,000 residents, but only Issaquah has the legal right to do so. Klahanie-area residents will vote Feb. 11 to decide the issue.
If Klahanie-area residents decide to join Issaquah, then Sammamish will back off. However, if Klahanie-area residents vote against annexation, Sammamish plans an intense lobbying effort at the county level to take control of the area.
The move is partly in response to some Klahanie-area residents’ concerns that if they reject Issaquah, Sammamish might drag its feet on an annexation.
Klahanie resident Tom Harman said just that earlier in the meeting.
“Their concern is, ‘I think we like Sammamish a little better, but is it going to take forever to get there?’” said Harman, a commissioner on the board of the Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District, who stressed he was speaking on his own behalf.
While making the fast-track promise, the council was reluctant to set a firm timetable.
Councilwoman Kathleen Huckabay noted that there can be a lag between an annexation date and the collection of property taxes in an area. If an annexation is not timed properly, the city could be on the hook for providing services to an area without being able to collect the taxes from it, she noted.
City Attorney Michael Kenyon said that if Sammamish were to proceed with an annexation, it would be able to set a date for taking over that would coincide with the tax-collection schedule.
Another sticking point is road improvements. Some members of the Sammamish council wanted to make a firm commitment to make improvements to Issaquah-Pine Lake Road, Issaquah-Fall City Road and Duthie Hill Road if Klahanie should become part of Sammamish.
All three roads have been in limbo for years. They each require tens of millions of dollars in road work. At present, they sit in King County. However, the county has been hesitant to do the needed work, reasoning that the roads will eventually be the responsibility of whichever city annexes the area.
That cost, in turn, has given the cities pause when considering annexation.
Duthie Hill Road is further complicated because of an area known as “The Notch,” which would remain outside any city under any situation.
Councilman Ramiro Valderrama brushed those concerns aside. He said if Sammamish annexed the area, those roads would immediately become one of the top priorities for the city to fix.
He noted that beyond Klahanie-area residents, other Sammamish residents, such as those from Trossachs or Alderra-Montaine, use the roads frequently and would like to see the work done.
Councilwoman Nancy Whitten disagreed, saying she feared misleading Klahanie-area residents with promises the city might not be able to keep.
“There’s a cost factor,” she said. “You need wiggle room here. You don’t want to spend $100 million in two to three years.”
The council decided that if Sammamish were to annex the Klahanie area, it would add the roads to its transportation plan, and consider them to be a priority. It did not make any assurances about how high a priority they would rate compared to other road projects. However, council members noted that Sammamish would have more reason to fix them than Issaquah.
“We have more motivation for doing this,” Councilman Tom Odell said. “This would be a priority for the Sammamish City Council.”
One promise the council did make was to add police service. The council said that if the Klahanie area was to become part of Sammamish, there would be a police officer dedicated to the area at all times. City Manager Ben Yazici explained that the city would likely add a new coverage zone. Right now, the city is broken into two zones, meaning two patrol officers are on duty at all times. This would add a third zone and a third officer.
Sammamish would have to hire six new officers to be able to cover that many shifts.
The council also committed to allowing Klahanie-area residents fair representation on City Council-created boards and commissions, and said some board and commission meetings would be held in the area to make them more accessible. It stood mute on the status of City Council meetings.