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Sammamish council votes yes on Aldarra/Montaine annexation
Amidst allegations of forgery, strong arm-tactics, and coercion, and the fractures of a community divided, six Sammamish councilors voted to annex the 273 homes in the neighborhoods of Aldarra and Montaine, on either side of Southeast Duthie Hill Road, into the city.
At a heated and contentious council meeting at Sammamish City Hall on March 16, a number of Aldarra/Montaine residents charged the neighborhood's annexation committees with forging at least one resident's signature, and pressuring other residents into signing the petition which was needed to show the council at least 60 percent of the homeowners there were in favor of the annexation.
From the speaker's dais at city hall, the language was direct and forceful, as people who were once neighbors accused each other of treachery on the one hand, and ignorance on the other.
Aldarra resident Elizabeth Martin spearheaded the protest of the annexation committee's process of gathering the required signatures, claiming that from the beginning the information they were presented about joining the City of Sammamish was "very one-sided."
Martin said she had sworn declaration from one woman, whose name was on the petition, that she never signed the document, and in fact was not in Washington at the time.
"This evidence of forgery should be ringing all sorts of alarm bells, not a 'see no evil, hear no evil' response," she said, adding that the existence of one forged signature opened the door to the possibility of other forged signatures.
Martin, representing a co-oalition of homeowners opposed to the annexation as it stood, also said a number of the signatures were undated, rendering them invalid.
"Any process which turns a blind eye to the irregularities we have uncovered is not only potentially legally defective, but starts the city's relationship with Aldarra/Montaine on the wrong foot."
"It would be a legal mistake for the city to continue without a close look at the petition."
Tom Bartlett referred what he felt were "pressure tactics and misinformation, being used to get some signatures."
In recent weeks, a small number of Aldarra/Montaine residents called the city to withdraw their names from the petition, but even with these names removed it still carried the required signatures of homeowners representing at least 60 percent of the neighborhood's assessed valuation.
"We have redactions, by the council's own admission, a first in the process," Bartlett said. "Obviously at least some people feel they were mislead or misinformed."
The week Deputy Mayor Nancy Whitten, a lawyer by profession, told The Reporter the allegations of forgery were not supported by any convincing evidence.
"It was all hearsay, first of all," she said. "At no time did I see anything in writing... the claims of forgery were never substantiated. It didn't establish even a suspicion in my mind."
Annexation supporters Steve Spaeth and Gary Bendes said they were saddened and amazed by the efforts of the anti-annexation group to disrupt the process.
Bendes said he was "stunned" by the tactics of some residents to discredit the petition, and said opponents had "accosted people at church, and in front of their schools."
"I'm shocked that anyone has alleged there were forgeries," Spaeth said. He referred to Martin's claim that one women's signature had been forged as "the supposed name misspelling..." "I don't care if they signed it or not. Somebody from that address did sign it, because it was mailed to them and then it was mailed back to the annexation committee."
What particularly troubled an impassioned Spaeth, he said, was that he couldn't understand the reasons behind those residents' opposition to becoming part of Sammamish.
"You want to be a part of King County, facing a $56 million deficit this year?" Spaeth asked. "And what are they doing? Reducing services and raising taxes. Is that really want you want to be a part of? It makes no sense."
Bendes also question why any residents would prefer to be a part of King County, in which they received very little local representation.
According to figures released by City of Sammamish Finance Director Lyman Howard, annexing into the City of Sammamish would reduce the tax burden of residents in Aldarra and Montaine by about $570 a year, based on an average home value of $767,000.
While the allegations of forgery and coercion did not appear to sway the council, minus the absent Mayor Don Gerend, they had more time for the concerns of Fire District 27 officials that moving Aldarra/Montaine out of their funding base would devastate their ability to serve homes in more rural areas.
At present, Aldarra/Montaine residents pay $1.23 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to Fire District 27 for fire service, about double what Sammamish residents currently pay to the city as members of the Eastside Fire and Rescue partnership, for service by stations 81, 82 and 83. This $1.23 subsidizes service in some of the less populated areas around Fall City covered by Fire District 27.
District 27 Commissioner Eric Hollis told the council that the Aldarra/Mointaine neighborhood accounted for 21 percent of their total revenue source, and that were they to lose that revenue, they would have to increase the amount collected from other residents.
"It would bump us up against the $1.50 lid limit (per $1,000 of assessed valuation) that we can collect," he said.
Hollis, and District 27 Fire Chief Chris Connor, urged the City of Sammamish to honor their earlier commitment to help the district continue operating given the loss of this substantial funding source.
"I do believe the city is getting a little bit of a windfall with this," Hollis said.
Annexing the 273 homes in the Aldarra/Montaine estates would bring in $75,000 a year for the City of Sammamish of about $75,000, according to the latest figures from the city's Finance Department.
"We were told the city would be a good neighbor, and would attempt to minimize any impacts (of annexing Aldarra/Montaine)," Connor said. "There are still unresolved issues."
City Manager Ben Yazici confirmed the city had made a commitment to "help the fire district stay whole," though did not elaborate on how he intended to do that.
Deputy Mayor Nancy Whitten offered less in terms of assurances.
"I think the thrust (of our previous conversations) was that we want very much to work with you to minimize the consequences, but necessarily make you whole."
Though the city has given its approval, the annexation proposal must now go before the King County Boundary Review Board, though it is unlikely there will be any problem with the application.
Finance Director Howard estimated it would cost the city about $555,000 a year to maintain and operate the two estates. It is estimated the city would collect about $510,000 in Property Tax and $50,000 in Sales Tax revenue from the neighborhoods.