Renton City Council moves forward with West Hill annexation vote
By DEAN RADFORD
Renton Reporter Editor
June 20, 2012 · Updated 6:03 PM
The vote on the annexation of West Hill to Renton will occur as planned on Nov. 6, despite ongoing concerns by the City of Renton about its ability to pay for services there.
The Renton City Council voted 4-3 Monday night to reject a motion to delay the annexation vote indefinitely and remove it from the November ballot.
West Hill residents and business leaders spoke in favor of letting the vote move forward. They've waited four years for the vote; the annexation petition setting the process in motion was certified in December 2008.
"There is a lot of economic potential up there," said Steve Holman, who lives in Bryn Mawr. West Hill is a "diamond in the rough," he said, before the council vote.
The City Council discussed the issues at length during its Committee of the Whole meeting prior to its regular meeting. Preserving a sales-tax credit from the state, a critical piece of the financing package, was a key consideration.
The vote came after council members learned the city does not have a deadline to actually implement the annexation if it's approved, giving it time to identify new revenue sources and hopefully see an increase in revenue from sales and property taxes hit hard by the recession.
That helped ease "a bit" some of the concerns Mayor Denis Law has expressed that paying for services on West Hill could mean a lower level of services for residents elsewhere in the city.
How much time the city has to annex West Hill isn't spelled out, but Law said there is no tool that could force the city to annex before it's ready.
The city has spent the last two years trying to figure out how to pay for services to West Hill, using city, county, state and federal sources.
Under the current analysis, the city would fall about $1.3 million short of what's necessary to provide daily services in 2013. That shortfall could increase to $4.5 million in 2023 because of the expiration of the sales-tax credit.
There are also $4.5 million in one-time transition costs for such purchases as vehicles and equipment. Capital projects for parks, surface water and streets add about $4.5 million a year.
The City of Renton is facing its own revenue shortfalls, too.Council members talked about phasing in some city services after the annexation is effective, such as park and street maintenance. However, police services would begin immediately.
Council members also received clarification that the vote by West Hill residents is final and the council does not have the authority at that point to reject annexation. The council could have stopped the annexation process by not placing the issue on the ballot or on Monday, when it could have removed the measure from the ballot.
The council had to act by the end of June to remove the annexation measure from this year's general election ballot.
Voting Monday night to in essence move forward with the election were council members Rich Zwicker, Terri Briere, Ed Prince and Greg Taylor.Voting to delay the vote were council members Don Persson, Marcie Palmer and Randy Corman.
Zwicker, the council president, said the council is taking "a leap of faith," but the city now has the time to find the money to make annexation pencil out financially.
Persson and Palmer were the two council members who in August 2010 voted against placing the annexation measure on the ballot. They continue to express strong reservations about the impact the annexation will have on services to current residents.
Corman voted in August 2010 to place the measure on the ballot. But he said Monday night he's "a lot more nervous" about how to finance West Hill services.
Contact Renton Reporter Editor Dean Radford at email@example.com or 1-425-255-3484 (ext 5050).