Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Annex North Highline To Seattle? City Council Digs In, Again

by Matt Rosenberg March 1st, 2011

SUMMARY: A Seattle City Council staff report ups the ante on the low-end estimates in a January, 2011 analysis from the administration of Mayor Mike McGinn on the annual and one-time net costs to the city of annexing the 3.55 square mile North Highline area in unincorporated King County. It includes the communities of White Center and Boulevard Park, is home to 20,000 residents and borders Seattle on the southwest. The staff report suggests it’s likely more prudent for the council to replace the Mayor’s best-case scenario of $1.8 million more in annual North Highline costs than annual revenues with an “älternative case scenario” of a $4.6 million annual operating shortfall. The report also suggests that the mayor’s $4.7 million best case estimate of one-time North Highline annexation costs be replaced with an alternate case scenario of $8.7 million. Still in place for the council’s review are the high-end estimates identified in the mayor’s report, a $16.8 million annual operating gap and $91.3 million in one-time expenditures, although the council report intimates that $37 million for non-arterial street paving should be shaved off that last number. A council committee and then the full council will decide before the end of March whether to authorize a November election in which North Highline residents would choose whether or not to annex to Seattle. If Seattle fails to annex North Highline, Burien, which borders it on the south, could.

Image courtesy of King County

BACKGROUND: Starting today in it’s Regional Development and Sustainability Committee, the Seattle City Council begins its final deliberations on whether to seek a public vote on annexation of the North Highline Unincorprated Area, or Area Y, bordering the southwest side of the city. The City Council staff report which will be presented to the committee today builds upon the January 18, 2011 report from Mayor Mike McGinn’s administration, titled “Änalysis of the Potential Annexation of North Highline into the City of Seattle.” In a cover letter to the Mayor’s January report, City Budget Office Director Beth Goldberg writes to the council that while the city can better serve North Highline than King County, the city “simply does not have sufficient resources (and resource growth)” to do so. In an earlier go-round, the Seattle City Council in 2009 decided against authorizing a North Highline annexation vote, as The Seattle Times reported.

KEY LINK: Seattle City Council staff memo, ongoing annual and one-time costs to city of annexing North Highline Unincorporated Area, February 23, 2011. (To be presented to City Council’s Regional Devleopment and Sustainability Committee March 1, 2011.


  • If Seattle annexes North Highline, the annual costs will exceed annual revenues by anywhere from $1.8 million in the best-case scenario to $16.8 million per year in the costliest scenario. One-time costs to Seattle from annexation of North Highline would range from $4.7 million in the best case, to $91.3 million under the costliest option. These figures are drawn directly from the January 18 report issued by the administration of Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn.
  • The council staff report proposes that instead of the best-case scenarios in the mayor’s report, the council should consider älternative best cases where the annual shortfall of revenues from North Highline versus expenses will be $4.6 million per year (not $1.8 million) , and the one-time costs of annexation will be $8.7 million (not $4.7 million).
  • The departments which account for the largest shares of the $15 million difference between the mayor’s best-case and worst-case annual revenue gaps are fire ($1.4 million more), police ($1.8 million more) and transportation ($5.2 million more ). The balance of the worst-case yearly gap comes from more than $5 million less in annual revenues, and additional spending in areas including housing, human services, law, municipal court, neighborhoods and parks.
  • The $86.6 million difference in best- and worst-case estimates of potential one-time costs to Seattle of a North Highline annexation are due mainly to transportation spending. The costlier plan would include $76 million (versus no expenditures) for arterial and non-arterial street paving needs, although it’s not realistic to include the $37 million designated for the latter. Other expenditures which add to the costliest one-time spending scenario are additional transportation projects, life-safety improvements to the North Highline Fire Station, Medic One training and vehicle, police services, and finance and administrative services.

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