Proposed annexation may prove to be numbers game

MARYSVILLE Judging from comments made during a special City Council meeting held July 1, the city administration is pretty much ready to go forward with annexing all that is left of the city's urban growth area.

Council members will have the final say and they may be ready to act as well.

"This is an area we are going to be annexing anyway," said City Councilwoman Carmen Rasmussen, referring to portions of unincorporated Snohomish County that sit on the east side of the city's current boundaries.

Still, officials said there are several issues on the table, seemingly the most important involving about 1,000 people.

According to city Finance Director Sandy Langdon, following the annexation, the city could collect back from the state up to .2 percent of the Washington sales tax generated throughout Marysville.

The tax would come from the newly incorporated area as well from within the existing city boundaries. But, and here's the catch, under state rules, in order to collect that .2 percent, the population of the annexed area must be at least 20,000.

Currently, the city estimates the area's population at over 19,000, but not reaching 20,000. If the population doesn't hit the 20,000 mark, the city would collect only .1 percent of all sales taxes generated. Under that scenario, the added cost of servicing the annexed area roughly would equal the additional taxes collected, according to Langdon. She added the city would be forced to provide a sort "of skeleton coverage" of the area in terms of services.

However, should the population of the area reach the magic 20,000 population figure, added tax collections would allow the city to provide full-scale services to the annexed area. Including road maintenance, Langdon put the cost of servicing the growth area at about $6 million annually.

In terms of service, officials repeatedly said adding and maintaining roads in the annexed area would be by far the biggest ticket item. Other annexation costs all are connected with the cost of providing city services.

Those service costs include everything from the potential need to hire 11 additional police officers to new lawnmowers for the public works department. Besides police, officials said several city departments would need to add full-time staffers to handle an increased workload.

"It's like annexing another city," Chief Administrative Officer Gloria Swenson said at one point during the council meeting.

State legislators created the sales tax incentives to encourage annexations, but at least in terms of a major municipal undertaking, they gave those incentives a short shelf life. In order to collect the added sales tax, the city must act regarding the annexation by 2010.

For the most part, at the recent council meeting and previously, Marysville leaders seemed to be looking at bringing the growth area under the city banner sometime next year.

Following the council meeting, City Assistant Administrator Paul Roberts said legislators proposed the sales tax scheme as a means of giving cities the funds needed to provide basic services in newly annexed areas. He further noted that, following annexations, the level of services offered in the formally unincorporated areas usually greatly increases.

The sales tax bonus will end 10 years after the annexation takes place, but officials also said there eventually might be efforts launched to persuade Olympia to extend the tax rebate.

If the tax disappears, Langdon said a rough estimate has the city absorbing approximately $628,000 in added expenditures. Still, Mayor Dennis Kendall said the annexation would benefit the city by adding to Marysville's total assessed value, making it easier to sell municipal bonds for such undertakings as road projects. Langdon talked about the annexation simply making sense as the targeted area is in the center of the city. In terms of practicalities, she said police currently need to route their patrols around the unincorporated areas.

Addressing a different aspect of the annexation, Kendall also promised numerous open houses and public hearings, giving the community the chance to weigh in on the topic.

Regarding the city's overall plans, one other major issue is creating an interlocal agreement regarding the annexation with Snohomish County officials. Roberts said he may have an agreement ready for council approval by the end of this year, but seemed to think a more realistic timeframe might have that document arriving early in 2009.

Though no vote was taken, in response to a question posed by Swenson, council gave the administration informal approval to continue pursuing the needed interlocal contract.

In the meantime, council members and others said there may be ways to increase the population in the growth area. Community Development Director Gloria Hirashima said several residential projects in the area simply had stalled for whatever reason. The city may work, possibly with county help, at getting those projects moving forward.

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