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Originally published Friday, November 2, 2012 at 4:33 PM

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Op-ed: Reject the proposal to annex White Center to Burien

The proposed annexation of White Center to Burien would not improve public safety, increase services for families or raise property values, according to guest columnists Mark Ufkes and Don Malo.

Special to The Times

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ANNEXATION should bring three benefits to a community: more police and public safety, more services for our families and businesses, and increased property values. Unfortunately, the proposed annexation of White Center to Burien would not bring any of these benefits.

Annexation is when an unincorporated area of King County leaves county government and becomes the legal and budget responsibility of a neighboring city. In our case, White Center has three options: stay unincorporated, annex to Burien or annex to Seattle.

We are voting to stay unincorporated in the Nov. 6 election. Here is why.

White Center’s diversity is our blessing. More than 50 languages are spoken here, and 70 percent of our Evergreen High School kids are from communities of color. We have larger families and higher social-service needs, yet we also have one of the largest Hispanic churches in the state. We are proud of our local bumper sticker, “White Center — Not so Centered, not so White”.

Our colorful business district has 25 of the best ethnic eateries in the region and all 250 White Center businesses are promoted on our Chamber of Commerce website,VisitWhiteCenter.com. Every May, we field 700 volunteers for a huge spring cleanup event and every December, we have an annual community summit, translated into seven languages, that brings 400 residents together to set neighborhood priorities.

Seattle officials explored annexation because part of the White Center Business District is already in Seattle. They proposed doubling our police force and adding a Medic One unit, but shifted away from annexation when they realized that our social-service needs would cost $2 million more than what we generate in taxes and annexation incentive funding.

King County then pushed Burien to try, knowing full well that Burien does not have a history of expanding social or public-safety investment. Burien is now struggling financially due to a massive drop in property values. Even though Burien has a higher property-tax rate than Seattle, Burien provides significantly fewer police per resident and has a social-services budget that is eight times less per resident than Seattle.

The majority of business owners we have talked with have no information about new business taxes, licensing fees and other regulatory changes that would come with annexation to Burien. Burien has not completed a detailed economic-development plan for White Center as required by annexation law. As a result, Burien cannot articulate a vision for what White Center will look like in five years if we give Burien control of our future.

If King County government, with 1.96million residents and a $680 million general-fund budget, is struggling to pay for White Center, our financial needs will crush Burien’s small-town budget. There is also a fear that annexation will create competition between downtown Burien and the White Center Business District, similar to downtown Bellevue and its fights with the Bel-Red Business District.

In recent years, King County has spent millions to improve White Center, including paved arterials, three remodeled parks and sidewalks downtown. King County announced it will add 14 new deputies next year to serve South King County, including White Center. These investments will immediately stop if we annex to Burien.

A wise old lady once said, “If you are going to sell yourself, sell high.” Annexing to a struggling Burien, during an economic downturn, is selling low.

We feel that the King County annexation initiative does not honor White Center’s potential. King County made the same mistake in Fairwood, and that is why unincorporated Fairwood voters rejected Renton annexation. Like Fairwood, we are voting to stay unincorporated. King County and Burien officials need to do their homework and come back with a better offer.

Mark Ufkes, left, is president of the White Center Chamber of Commerce. Don Malo of Malo’s Autobody has owned a business in White Center for 40 years.

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