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Bridge's future complicates mill annex balance sheet

The city of Snoqualmie's latest tallies on the costs and benefits of annexing the former Weyerhaeuser lumber mill site show an annual balance in the black.

But questions remain on how incoming infrastructure like Mill Pond Road and the Meadowbrook Bridge, which must come into city limits as part of a deal with King County, changes the financial equation.

Snoqualmie's current deal with King County brings the 200-acre Mill Planning Area into the city as-is. With no development plan on the table by landowners, the city must base its calculations on current uses and figures from DirtFish Rally School's first year in operation.

Snoqualmie Finance Officer Rob Orton last week presented his assessment of fiscal impact issues.

"It's an assessment to find out, are we going to be in the hole? Is it something that is going to be beyond our means to take over?" he said. "If I restrict myself to the tangibles—what I know—and compare that to the annual bridge maintenance... it looks like it could be wash."

Revenues and costs

Based on existing use, the city expects annual tax and utility revenues of about $180,000, with the bulk coming from the $167,000 annual stormwater fees. The total also includes $4,400 a year in property taxes and $15,000 in utility fees. Business and occupation taxes are estimated at between $1,300 and $1,900 yearly, and taxes on admission to the special events such as the Global RallyCross races and Boeing Classic parking would amount to about $5,000.

Indirect benefits, such as sales made by visitors to the site in existing city limits, have not been calculated, as they would happen with or without annexation, Orton said.

He calculates that infrastructure costs from annexation, including road work, bridge repair and police costs, would amount to $12,000 in initial costs and $18,000 per year in maintenance. Future considerations, though, could also include replacement of the Meadowbrook bridge and maintenance or even closure of Mill Pond Road.

"Roads and the bridge are the two biggest issues," Orton said.

Bridge's future

The historic 1921 Meadowbrook truss is expected to last at least another 14 years. King County rebuilt the bridge supports in 2005 for $7 million.

Orton estimates annual maintenance costs at about $8,300, and replacement, when it comes time, at roughly $10 million. That cost would likely be shared by other governments, he believes.

Annexation also requires the city to take over maintenance on Mill Pond Road and parts of Reinig Road and 396th Drive. Those county roads need work to meet city standards. Complete reconstruction of the two miles of Mill Pond and 396th would cost about $700,000.

On 396th Drive, a city-county compromise agreement keeps county ownership until half of all trips come from city limits. At that point, the city would assume responsibility for the drive.

According to Orton's assessment, the city is considering closing Mill Pond Road or turning it into a trail.

Closure could be triggered by flooding or intense development in the area, and is subject to future council approval and a traffic study.

If Mill Pond road remains open, the city expects to spend about $12,000 initially to bring the shoulders up to standard, then $6,000 annually for shoulder maintenance.

Quality of life concerns

Critics of the annex, meanwhile, continue to question how it would affect property values and quality of life.

Speaking at a Monday, Sept. 12, city council discussion on a pre-annexation agreement, neighbor Warren Rose urged the city to back off.

"This is a lose for the city, plain and simple," said Rose, who aired concerns over the opportunity costs—what annexation of the motor sports operation would mean for homeowners.

"You've got to do a helluva lot better," he said.

Fellow speaker Erin Ericson told the council to look into the value of the strip of residential property on the site, and asked them to consider track noise.

"You have the casino concerts, and DirtFish on top of that." Ericson said. "We get some really, really noisy days."

The results of this summer's noise study of DirtFish, conducted August 4 to 7 by Seattle-based SSA Acoustics, showed DirtFish well within the limits of the law.

"The sound levels that were measured at these locations really are in the same range...  as ambient," said SSA technician Alan Burt.

But Snoqualmie resident Dave Eiffert, whose property housed one of the remote sound monitoring stations, said the results from his home showed a four-decibel increase during rally school hours.

"That's a 40 percent increase in sound on my property. I want you to consider that and think about your properties," he told the city council. "A 40 percent increase is significant to my lifestyle."

More questions

On paper, the balance sheet appears to show Snoqualmie with a $166,000 annual windfall from the annex.

But Orton said the annex doesn't follow strict cost-benefit rules, because of the unknowns surrounding the site's future and the fact that revenues and expenses are from unconnected general and utilities budgets.

"Relying on one year's worth of data from DirtFish and what they think their rally car and retail sales would be—you can't do that against a bridge that right now is being used by a population that has nothing to do with the annexation."

He would like more data about the kind of growth expected there, "not just at the DirtFish property but the areas that are served by Reinig Road and the bridge."

A 2008 traffic count saw 1900 daily trips across the Meadowbrook Bridge, and Orton calculated 8 percent growth in trips per year based on county predictions.

"There's been no development," Orton said. "Where is that coming from?

The city plans a new study of the bridge and local traffic to get some answers. These studies are beginning soon, Public Works Director Dan Marcinko said, and should take roughly five weeks to complete.

• You can read Orton's financial analysis and the SSA sound study report at http://www.ci.snoqualmie.wa.us/CityProjects/MillPlanningAreaAnnexation.aspx

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