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Sunday, May 13, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Southeast opinion

Fairwood incorporation: wrong place, wrong time

Special to the Times

A new drive to incorporate Fairwood has opponents ready to revive efforts to once again defeat the plan.

Even though an incorporated Fairwood, which would have had about 26,000 residents, was rejected at the polls last year, it could again be an issue. The Washington State Boundary Review Board for King County held a public hearing last week to give pro-incorporation residents a chance to make their case. When the Boundary Review Board took up the matter 11 months ago, listening to many hours of public testimony and thoughtful deliberations, it found that Fairwood would struggle to provide basic public services without significant new development. The board formalized an earlier decision to recommend denial of Fairwood incorporation because it didn't pencil out financially.

The board found that "with limited resources, service will likely be less effective, less efficient, and more costly to both the government and its citizens. In such circumstances there will likely be challenges to the city's ability to protect public health, safety and welfare."

Later, the Municipal League of King County arrived at the same conclusion. The League's board and the ballot committees, each with a two-thirds vote, opposed the ballot measure to incorporate. Citing a "weak tax base," the board concluded that "the new city would struggle to provide the higher level of public services its residents would likely expect from a city."

The Seattle Times editorial board and the King County Master Builders Association (MBA) also recommended against incorporation. Because of a lack of financial resources, the MBA concluded "the City of Fairwood would need to supplement their permit process through fees directly charged to applicants, who are for the most part, MBA members. What it means is a higher cost of doing business and therefore the MBA is opposed to a new City of Fairwood."

In September, in an election that drew nearly 60 percent of voters, the ballot measure to incorporate Fairwood was defeated.

Nothing has changed significantly since the Review Board's original deliberations and the collective rejection of incorporation:

• The proposed city would still rank among the lowest of all King County cities in sales-tax revenue per resident.

• If Fairwood incorporated, over time it still would lack the funds to provide the same services residents now receive from King County, and would certainly not be able to improve those services.

• Residents of the new city would need to approve regular tax increases to fund the costs of basic municipal services as they rise with inflation.

Incorporation of Fairwood is still the wrong plan, in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is the wrong plan because the incorporation is based on promises lacking adequate financial support. It is the wrong place because the Fairwood area of Renton's Potential Annexation Area should be annexed to Renton. It is the wrong time because Renton, more than ever before, is well-positioned to grow and prosper through annexation of several areas, including Fairwood.

Maple Valley has been touted as a comparable area that has incorporated. However, the two areas are more different than they are similar.

Fairwood's nearly 11 square miles is essentially built out. Maple Valley, around five square miles, is surrounded by 60 square miles of rural land. Median home prices in Maple Valley, having grown 90 percent from 2000 to 2006, are nearly twice those in Fairwood.

The Streamline Sales and Use Tax Agreement has also been used to try and bolster Fairwood as a city. Proponents say it would give the new city the financial wherewithal to provide basic public services at a level residents expect. The agreement benefits residential cities by collecting sales tax on behalf of the jurisdictions where goods or services are delivered, rather than where they are sold.

In reality, there is no Fairwood Fairy God-mother. Residents should actively work to defeat another ill-advised attempt to create a city destined to be financially shackled from the start.

J. Paul Blake is a Fairwood resident and former "Go Vote NO!" chairman.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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