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Friday, September 15, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Feelings, finances key issues in vote on Fairwood's future

Seattle Times staff reporter

Read up on the issue


Pros and cons online: Arguments for incorporation

can be found at www. choosefairwood.com.

Supporters of incorporation include Fire District 40 and the King County Police Officers' Guild.

Arguments against incorporation are at www.govoteno.org.

Opponents of incorporation include the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties and the Municipal League of King County.

The argument for turning suburban Fairwood into a city isn't about making big changes.

It's about keeping things the way they are and bringing local control to this collection of grassy, tree-covered subdivisions east of Renton.

"It's a great community. We want to preserve the community as much as we can the way it is today," explains Aaron McLuen, president of the Fairwood Task Force, which has brought the issue to Tuesday's primary ballot.

If voters create a city of 23,000, trimmed from the original proposal, it will be the first new city in King County since Sammamish incorporated in 1999.

The Fairwood Task Force was formed to explore governance options three years ago after King County warned it didn't have the money to continue providing local services, such as police coverage, to urban unincorporated areas such as Fairwood.

The local group filed to make Fairwood its own city after rejecting the idea of joining Renton. For years Renton has viewed a 41,500-resident area that includes Fairwood as territory it hoped eventually to annex.

The incorporation vote in Fairwood may turn on two key issues: residents' feelings about their larger neighbor and the financial viability of the proposed city.

The Fairwood Task Force concluded that residents don't identify with Renton and wouldn't have a strong voice in the city, which has a population of about 56,000.

Opponents say the task force got it wrong, and that annexation to Renton, with its strong commercial tax base, would make more sense.

A county-funded analysis found that a new city would be viable and that it could initially provide the same levels of service the county now provides, without any immediate tax increase.

But the study by Seattle-based Berk & Associates also said the rising costs of services would probably force the fledgling city to periodically ask citizens for property-tax increases. Fairwood would be the first city created since state Initiative 747 limited annual property-tax increases to 1 percent without a vote of the people.

With only a few grocery stores and other businesses, Berk said the new city would rank last among 39 cities in the county in per-capita sales tax revenues. Fairwood would collect $38 per resident, compared to $310 for Renton.

Advocates for the city say they aren't daunted by those numbers. But the Boundary Review Board recommended against incorporation, warning that it couldn't effectively govern with such a "fragile fiscal base." The Municipal League of King County also opposes incorporation.

J. Paul Blake, a leader of a local anti-incorporation group, Go Vote No, says, "The city of Fairwood will not be financially viable."

Blake advocates annexation to Renton, which he views as a well-run city attracting such new enterprises as the Federal Reserve, the Seahawks' training camp, and a Target store at The Landing, a mixed-use development.

"When is the last time you bought a new car or a big-screen TV in Fairwood? If you go to Ikea, where do you think that is?" Blake says. "All these people are shopping in Renton or Tukwila or Seattle. Their tax dollars are going to those areas. Talk about local control. You aren't going to have any local control of taxes."

Blake has cooled his rhetoric since January, when he called the pro-city movement — which held its early meetings at the Fairwood Golf and Country Club — an "elitist" attempt by "the country club set" to remain separate from historically blue-collar Renton.

Renton hasn't taken a stand, but promoters view the city as quietly trying to influence citizens to vote no. The Renton Task Force has complained to the state Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) about the city hiring a public-relations firm and inserting a city publication in a community newsletter.

The PDC rejected both of those complaints without investigation, and is now reviewing a third complaint about a joint memorandum by Renton Mayor Kathy Keolker and King County Library System Director Bill Ptacek discussing library service.

If Fairwood incorporates, the memo said, the county system would still run the community library. In the event of annexation, the city would try to maintain the county's higher level of service there.

The city is studying ways to improve its independent library system: increase its funding, contract with the county system, or join the county system.

Renton's assistant chief administrative officer, Marty Wine, said the library memo was an attempt to answer library patrons' questions, not influence the election.

Whatever challenges the new city might face, McLuen says, the basic issue is local control.

"It's about choice," McLuen says. "It's about being able to choose our local form of government, and it's about being able to preserve our right to choose our future decisions about our community, and how our tax dollars are spent and where they are spent."

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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