Kent Council takes first step in Panther Lake annexation

The Kent City Council unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday night to let Panther Lake area residents vote next year on whether to annex their area to the city.

Workers build homes at The Ridge at Panther Lake

Workers build homes at The Ridge at Panther Lake

The Kent City Council unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday night to let Panther Lake area residents vote next year on whether to annex their area to the city.

The proposed annexation of 5 square miles, with an estimated 24,000 residents, could go to a public vote as soon as May 2009.

“This puts it in front of the citizens to decide what they want to do,” Councilman Tim Clark said before casting his vote in Tuesday’s 7-0 decision.

Five Panther Lake area residents spoke at a public hearing prior to the Council vote. Two spoke in support of annexing into Kent. Three others said they wanted more information about how the change would impact them.

“I’m very much in favor of annexation,” said Barbara Searle, a Panther Lake resident. “Two of my neighbors came with me and we’d like to be part of the city of Kent.”

The jagged borders of the potential annexation area generally start north of Southeast 236th Street to near Southeast 192nd Street, and run east of 108th Avenue Southeast to near 132nd Avenue Southeast. The area covers 5 square miles and 3,200 acres.

As a result of the Council’s vote, city staff now will file a notice of intent to the King County Boundary Review Board, to place annexation on the election ballot in 2009.

The Boundary Review Board reviews proposals for boundary changes by cities, fire districts, and water/sewer districts within King County, including city annexations. After the city files a notice of intent the Boundary Review Board, the board has 150 days to approve the proposal. The board also would conduct a public hearing before issuing a decision by next February.

If the Boundary Review Board approves the proposal, the Council would set an election date. City staffers are aiming for a May election, rather than August, in order to give the city more time to prepare for serving an additional 24,000 residents. The city’s population now stands at 86,000. If the annexation is approved, the city would need to add 91 employees, including 31 police officers and 23 public works department employees.

If the Council places an annexation measure on the ballot in 2009 and Panther Lake residents approve annexation to the city, the effective date of annexation would be Jan. 1, 2010.

About 63 percent of registered voters in the Panther Lake area favor annexation to Kent, according to a city-produced survey released at Tuesday’s meeting. A telephone survey of 400 registered voters in the unincorporated area was conducted the first two weeks of August, said Michelle Witham, city community and public affairs manager.

The survey showed that police, fire and emergency medical services were the top three things Panther Lake residents said would increase their quality of life if they joined the city of Kent.

Julie LeFebvre, a Panther Lake resident, testified on Tuesday that she looks forward to better police services from the city of Kent than what she gets from the King County Sheriff’s Office.

“I don’t know how long it would take (now) if I had to call 911,” LeFebvre said. “I’ve spoken to my neighbors, and we all support annexation. I’ll do what I can to see that residents are informed and we get a positive vote.”

King County has strongly encouraged cities through tax incentives to annex unincorporated areas, and that’s one reason so many annexation measures have come to pass in Auburn, Renton and other Puget Sound cities. King County successfully lobbied the state Legislature in 2007 to approve an annexation sales tax.

Any city with a population of less than 400,000 that annexes at least 10,000 people receives a portion of the state sales tax collected in that city for 10 years. To quality for that tax, cities must start the annexation process by Jan. 1, 2010.

Taxes would drop slightly for Panther Lake residents if they vote to join the city. An owner of a $300,000 home would save about $156 a year on property taxes, said Bob Nachlinger, city finance director. Property owners would no longer have to pay the county road tax or the Fire District 37 levy. Garbage and drainage services also are lower in the city.

But new residents would have to pay the 6 percent city tax on electric, gas and telephone utilities.

Overall, a Panther Lake resident would save about $30 per year in taxes if the area becomes part of the city, Nachlinger said.

While residents might save a little money, one Panther Lake business could end up closing in 2010 if city laws remain the same.

Shannon McClure, a representative of the Great American Casino, 20500 108th Ave. S.E., told the Council on Tuesday that 137 employees are worried about their jobs because of the city’s ban (since 1999) against card rooms. The casino features Las Vegas-style card games such as blackjack and poker.

“We’re very concerned about what happens to us if annexation goes through,” McClure said.

McClure encouraged the Council to support a local option bill to the Legislature that the Recreational Gaming Association of Washington plans to sponsor next year to allow cities to zone where card rooms could go, rather than having an outright ban or allowing them anywhere in the city. She also asked the Council to “grandfather” in the casino to allow it to stay open.

Great American Casino also has locations in Tukwila, Everett and Lakewood. The company’s corporate offices are in Kent and employ 14, McClure said.

For more information about the proposed Panther Lake annexation, go to www.ci.kent.wa.us/annexation or call the city’s annexation hotline at 253-856-5799.

Contact Steve Hunter at 253-872-6600, ext. 5052 or shunter@reporternewspapers.com.


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