Officials debate where to expand Bothell boundaries

Bothell City Manager Bob Stowe said either move is financially viable.

Bothell City Manager Bob Stowe said either move is financially viable.

But judging from comments made during a two-hour discussion Jan. 13, Bothell City Council may be split on whether to expand the city’s boundaries to the north, to the south or not at all.

Officials currently are debating whether to annex the so-called NEWBA (North East West Bothell Annexation) area or the so-called SOBA (South of Bothell Annexation) area.

The NEWBA annexation has been on the table for some time. The SOBA area surfaced as a potential addition to Bothell last year when King County Executive Ron Simms asked the city to consider expanding to the south.

King County actively is seeking to shed its unincorporated areas, even adding financial incentives for cities to add new turf to their boundaries.

In the case of either annexation, Bothell leaders also have a chance to cash in on incentives offered by the state, namely additional sales tax dollars.

In terms of annexation, the city of Kirkland has first dibs on the SOBA and would need to release its hold on the area in order for Bothell to proceed. Stowe indicated if Kirkland decides it wants the SOBA, all bets are off in terms of Bothell taking the area. City-council members gave no public indication they would be willing to fight Kirkland for the SOBA and it is not clear if such a fight would be legally feasible.

According to a city report, largely detailed for the council by Bothell Deputy City Manager Steve Anderson, the SOBA area would bring with it revenues estimated at $14.2 million annually. In terms of providing city services, initial city expenses in the area would hit about $14.6 million, plus one-time expenses of $5.4 million.

The report released by the city further states that if those one-time costs are spread out over three years, Bothell would be left with an operating deficit in the SOBA of about $2.2 million for the first three years after annexation. Still, Bothell could receive about $2.7 million in aid from Olympia, offsetting the budget shortfall. Council members and others did note there is always the chance the state incentive program could change, and, even as set up currently, all additional state dollars would dry up 10 years after any annexation.

Somewhat controversially, some of the revenue projections detailed by Anderson included dollars from a car dealership planning to relocate into the SOBA area, but even more notably a card room operating in the SOBA. Several city-council members questioned the desirability of bringing a card room into the city.

Comparing the SOBA to the NEWBA, the projected budget shortfalls essentially disappear. In the first year after a NEWBA annexation, with the state dollars, Bothell actually would have a roughly $2.8 million safety net available to it. Anderson said those dollars would not go into Bothell’s bank accounts, but would be available to the city if it encountered unexpected expenses.

While Stowe at least twice stated either annexation is financially feasible, he said the city cannot afford to take on both the SOBA and the NEWBA. Stowe further stated any annexation isn’t going to happen before late 2010 or early 2011.

In making its final decision, Bothell Mayor Mark Lamb stated council’s main focus should be on what move best benefits the current residents. While he insisted he had not made up his mind either way, Lamb mentioned several benefits the SOBA area would bring to the city, including an abundance of public parks. There also was some discussion that the SOBA would provide Bothell a direct link to Lake Washington.

NEWBA resident Dan Grieve has long been passionate about bringing that area into Bothell, partly because of what he sees as a need for increased services, particularly safety services. He said annexing the NEWBA would amount to “Phase II” of the Canyon Park area annexation completed by Bothell in 1992. As did several council members, he noted residents of the NEWBA have shown plenty of support for joining Bothell, while there does not seem to be the same sentiment coming from persons living in the SOBA.

“Fiscal issues shouldn’t decide everything,” Grieve said. “Our area has a cultural link to Bothell, anyone can see that.”

Council’s recent discussion hit on numerous other issues connected to the annexation, but was strictly an information session. Final decisions were neither planned nor made. Council asked the city administration to bring back further information in the near future. Stowe wants a decision from council by March, partly due to deadlines set by the Snohomish County Boundary Review Board.

The NEWBA sits in Snohomish County, while the SOBA is entirely in King County.