EDITOR’S COLUMN: Fairwood residents face tough decision on incorporation

IF ONLY …

If only we weren’t in a deep recession.

If only Tim Eyman wasn’t trying to dismantle government.

If only the answer was clear-cut and indisputable.

If only we lived in a perfect world.

THEN, the decision to make a city out of Fairwood wouldn’t cause such anxiety and occasionally bring out the worst in people.

But those “ifs” aren’t going away soon and they make forming a new city right now a real leap of faith.

Take this column as my attempt to help Fairwood residents think about whether to form a new city of 26,000 people – given all those “ifs,” mostly negative, weighed against that seductive promise of local control.

Votes are now being cast in this all-mail election. Expect a full-out push this weekend from those who favor forming a city and those who think a better course is annexing to a mature city such as Renton.

The decision facing Fairwood voters is a personal one, one to make after deep reflection because the decision is almost irrevocable.

Please, just be sure that your concerns have been honestly addressed and questions answered with the best available information.

What’s telling is that two very active Web sites, the ongoing efforts of Fairwood Community News to air the issue and the occasional factual clarifications from the City of Renton about its services are required to fully explain the facts surrounding a new city of Fairwood.

This is the second attempt to form a City of Fairwood, the first in 2006. Many of the issues debated then are still on the table today. In those three years, the economy has been dumped into a recession and property values have dropped, meaning that the amount of money available from property taxes – a key source of revenue for a City of Fairwood – have also dropped. Tim Eyman’s Initiative 1033 could strip a young Fairwood’s budget even more.

Significantly, also what has changed is the nature of a feasibility study done for the King County Boundary Review Board.

The first one flat out tried to answer the question: Is a City of Fairwood financially feasible? The answer was not clearcut and gave both sides of the issue something to put on their campaign literature. The Boundary Review Board voted to oppose incorporation and so did the voters, although closely.

This time around, the consultants used a comparable city method, with Maple Valley as the model, to determine whether a City of Fairwood would provide services roughly equating to Maple Valley’s. The study said yes and the boundary review board agreed.

I have to wonder had that question been tweaked a third time would the answer about Fairwood’s viability come back different yet again.

Of course, the best decision is always made by informed voters. Do you feel as if proponents of incorporation are fully explaining the issues in a fair and honest way? They likely are the ones who will want to run for the City Council. You need to trust them.

The vote Nov. 3 is about forming a new city, not about how Renton might serve Fairwood if it annexes.

You will probably want to listen carefully to the values expressed by the proponents of incorporation. The pro-incorporation Fairwood Municipal Initiative links on its Web site to the Highlands Community Association, which lists several concerns it has with low-income housing.

The City of Renton and the Highlands group are now working to address many of the concerns the group raises. Renton does care about its neighborhoods.

I have to wonder about any suggestion that low-income families are not particularly welcome in Fairwood. (See my story on the Renton Housing Authority property in Fairwood.)

Is a wall being built around Fairwood, with a certain set of values as bricks? Fairwood is truly a family friendly neighborhood. It should be open to all.

One thing is for certain. Don’t believe any promises that are being made about service levels or revenue or expenses. No one, probably, is purposefully misleading the public. But no one can promise anything in this volatile era of city finances.

What if Fairwood had become a city in 2006, at the height of the economic boom and of the housing bubble? With little time to build financial reserves, a City of Fairwood today could be facing some really agonizing decisions – just like every other city.

I admitted at the beginning that this column is full of negatives about a new City of Fairwood. But there’s always that leap of faith.


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