The Kent City Council could decide within the next month whether to pick the May or August ballots this year for Panther Lake residents to vote on becoming part of the city.
Council members indicated at an annexation workshop Tuesday at City Hall that August might be a better choice until the city knows whether state funds are available to help the city pay for the annexation of nearly 24,000 residents.
The Council must file an annexation ordinance with King County elections by March 28 for the May 19 ballot or by May 26 for the Aug. 18 ballot.
“I don’t want to have the vote in May and find out the state is taking the money away,” Councilwoman Deborah Ranniger said at the workshop.
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. Kent has a population of 86,000. To qualify for that tax, cities must start the annexation process by Jan. 1, 2010.
If Panther Lake residents approve annexation to Kent, the city would receive an estimated $4.5 million the first year from the state and as much as $54 million over 10 years, said Bob Nachlinger, city finance director. The $4.5 million from the state would cover about one-third of the annexation budget the first year.
That funding remains a part of the state budget proposed by Gov. Christine Gregoire, said John Hodgson, city chief administrative officer. But the Legislature is slated to be in session until late April as it deals with a projected budget shortfall of at least $6 billion. City officials are watching the Legislature to see if the annexation money stays in the state budget.
“With the uncertainty in Olympia, it seems irrational to put on an early vote,” Councilman Tim Clark said. “The next state revenue forecast is in March. Nothing will happen (in Olympia) until then. It doesn’t make sense to move forward. We’ll have a better answer by holding off.”
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 and Renton. King County successfully lobbied the state Legislature in 2007 to approve an annexation sales tax.
Mayor Suzette Cooke told the Council at the workshop that even if the Legislature approves annexation funding at this session, those funds are only available to the city for two years at a time because the next Legislature will determine the next budget.
“It becomes a two-year by two-year commitment,” Cooke said.
The state’s Growth Management Act established a policy that urban growth areas (such as Panther Lake) would ultimately become part of cities rather than unincorporated parts of counties.
The borders of the potential annexation area generally start north of Southeast 236th Street to Southeast 192nd Street, and run east of 95th Avenue South to near 132nd Avenue Southeast. The area covers 5 square miles and 3,300 acres.
Councilman Les Thomas, a former member of the King County Council, said he expects state and county officials would pay more attention to the needs of Kent if another 24,000 residents were added to the population.
“We’d get better treatment if we’re the fifth-largest city in the state rather than the ninth,” Thomas said. “If you’re the fifth-largest city, you’re one of the bigger players.”
City staff plans to return next month to a Council workshop with the estimated cost of pre-annexation steps the city needs to take, such as pre-zoning in Panther Lake, a census of the area and staff hires. The Council asked staff to recommend how to pay for those costs, which are not part of the 2009 city budget.
“We’ll proceed in moving forward with the costs of pre-zoning and the census,” Hodgson told the Council. “But we will need to know whether to have a May election or not.”
For more information about the annexation, go to www.ci.kent.wa.us/annexation or call the city’s annexation hotline at 253-856-5799.
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