When Adam Stafford and his wife moved to Issaquah from California five years ago, they thought they were actually moving to Issaquah. Turns out, the couple ended up in a small patch of unincorporated area that didn’t fall within the jurisdiction of Bellevue or Issaquah. The difficulty of relying on King County support became plainly obvious on a night when Stafford’s security alarm went off. It appeared to be a misfire, and Stafford thought nothing of it. But more than an hour later, King County Sheriff’s officers responded.
For Stafford, who was unaware of the legal status of his area, the event proved to be a catalyst. Stafford’s tale is commonplace among the 5,500 residents in Eastgate and other areas representing unincorporated islands, surrounded by city. They lack the police, fire and other non-emergency services that their neighbors receive.
“Our streets don’t get salted; there’s windstorms, and something falls over and it takes weeks to clean it up,” Stafford said. “We don’t get general city support.”
These residents have banded together and passed the first threshold in the process of being added to the City of Bellevue. Organizers from the city and neighborhoods gathered approval from property owners representing 10 percent of the assessed value in the area, to clear the first important hurdle.
Next up, they will look to get 50 percent. This effort will be kicked off at an open house at the South Bellevue Community Center June 30. Neighborhood organizers and city representatives will be on hand to educate residents on the annexation efforts.
The proposed annexation area houses 5,554 residents living in 2,123 homes on 750 acres. Those homes reach a total of more than $1 billion in additional assessed value.
Though it will allow Bellevue to expand its tax base, the annexation will have more than $1 million estimated cost exceeding the new revenue. But, the state funded a program where cities can use sales tax revenue to offset shortfalls caused by annexation to encourage cities to take on unincorporated areas. This rule allows the state to collect a smaller percentage of the existing tax revenue and divert extra dollars to the city.
Stafford has been working on this issue for several years. When the City Council gave the go-ahead to persue the 10 percent threshold earlier this year, Stafford said he got 45 to 50 signatures in the first couple weekends.
City staff praised the effort of neighborhood leaders to show the people what annexation will mean to them.
“They went out into the community and talked to their neighbors,” said Bellevue Senior Planner Nicholas Matz. “They’re doing the hard work of having these conversations.”
Matz said the residents would both gain access to superior fire and police services from Bellevue, along with the ability to vote in local elections and pay cheaper property tax bills. Bellevue charges $7.89 per thousand of assessed value, while the county charges $10.26.
Utility prices would be higher, but the end result is still a major savings for residents.
Bellevue previously attempted in 1990 to annex the Eastgate area, which represents 4,967 of the new residents, with a vote passing easily. But when it became apparent that residents would be forced to pay off some of the city’s bond debt, the people voted it down and Bellevue declined to continue with the annexation process. This annexation effort is contingent on residents accepting an equal share of debt. Stafford said he has received no concern from residents on this issue.
Thus far, the focus has been on Eastgate and Tamara Hills. Other areas, Horizon View and Hilltop, will not be ready for the 10 percent threshold until September because of a needed zoning change. But, city officials said, the goal is to have all the areas ready for a final vote in April 2012. For Stafford and numerous other residents, who moved to the area from out of state unaware of the incorporation issues, this change represents redemption.
“To a lot of my neighbors they felt like the wool got pulled over their eyes because they felt like it wasn’t explained that they weren’t part of a city.”
How residents benefit from annexation
The city of Bellevue set up a website that explains the benefits of annexation. It features a calculator that can tell residents how much they will pay in taxes under Bellevue’s jurisdiction. For more information, visit: http://www.ci.bellevue.wa.us/south-bellevue-annexation.htm