1913 letter opposing acceptance of the Highland Park and Lake Burien Railway by the City of Seattle for financial reasons.
City of Seattle
City Clerk Files
Communication of Chamber of Commerce regarding Highland Park & Lake Burien Ry, etc
April 15, 1913.
Finance Committee, City Council,
City of Seattle.
As the Chamber of commerce, through the Bureau of Taxation, has twice expressed its opposition to the acceptance as a gift by the city of the Highland Park and Lake Burien Car Line, we wish at this time to explain more fully some of the grounds of our opposition.
There is no evading or escaping the fact that the acceptance of this gift will entail an initial expenditure of from $20,000 to $20,000 [sic ?typo or bad copy?] for rehabilitation, substation, and other equipment, at a time when we are forced of necessity to save every cent possible in municipal administration.
The proposal to omit any appropriation for the road in the tax levy and finance it by loans from other funds when the time comes is but an evasion of the responsibility which now faces the council. To follow such a plan would be3 simply to pile up a deficit to be met later; to shift a burden upon the shoulders of a future council with no assurance that the city will be in better condition to meet the expense in the future than it is at present. The juggling proposed is exactly the kind of juggling overwhelmingly disapproved by the people in the last election in the defeat of charter amendments proposed to legalize such procedure.
If the council proposes to accept this gift, the responsibility, financial and otherwise, should be squarely faced and the appropriation for the necessary money by made in the 1914 budget.
However, the money required to rehabilitate, equip and operate the existing line is but a small part of the outlay which will be necessary to carry out the ambitious plans now on foot. Already two extensions are proposed; one to carry the road on to the tide water at Three Tree Point; the other to connect it up with the Division A of the Municipal Car Line via Spokane Avenue and Fourth Avenue. The first would be an expensive piece of construction of doubtful financial advantage. The cost of the second is estimated by the department of public utilities at $131,000 exclusive of the cost of additional care necessitated by the longer run There are also on foot plans to build one or more extensions into West Seattle territory. All told, the extensions now planned, all in territory needing development in order to make it pay from the transportation standpoint, would involve an expenditure of at least $200,000 for construction alone, exclusive of equipment and maintenance.
The council has the power to issue public utility bonds for the extension of public utilities of this sort that have been initiated by vote of the people. It is extremely doubtful if the council has the power to issue such bonds for extension of a utility which has not been approved by vote of the people as in the present case. Even if the council ahs the legal power to issue such bonds in this case, our recent experiences give no justification to the belief that such bonds would be salable in the open market. The plan now proposed is to absorb such bond issues with the sinking funds of other public utility departments; a plan repudiated by the people in the last election and subject to attack from taxpayers in the courts.
Even if the funds for this project were realized through the issuance by the council of public utility bonds, the annual interest on $200,000 or more would inevitably be a burden to be met by general taxation for several years, together with such deficit which may accrue in operation of the system.
The argument advanced as a justification for the city to embark on this project is the development of outlying territory. Th3e council at the present time is face to face with the results of development of outlying territory as reflected in a high tax rate. This development means increased cost in fire and police protection, garbage collection, parks, and playgrounds, water and light extensions and contributions to local improvements. The great area over which Seattle has extended its partial developments is largely responsible for the present high tax rate and for the city to go into the business of development [of] outlying areas is but to invite increase in municipal expenses in greater ratio than the increase in the taxable value of the property developed.
We are not opposed to development of outlying territory as fast as it is justified by the needs of the population of Seattle but we are of the opinion that private enterprise will take care of that development as fast as it is legitimately demanded. Pioneering should be left to the pioneers and not be undertaken as a governmental function.
We favor the development of the Highland Park & Lake Burien territory. It is beautiful residential territory. The owners of the property are making laudable efforts to develop their section and the city should co-operate with them but not to to [sic] the extent of taking over, financing, and operation the line which they have started, for should the city take over the road, service to its patrons would always be considered above financial prosperity of the road. The city is irretrievably committed to the policy of transfer privileges on all lines within the city limits and the same pressure which is now being brought upon the council to take over this line would later be brought to force transfer privileges, throwing the long and expensive haul up on the city and the short and profitable haul upon the private company. The result would be to postpone still longer the day when the road would cease to be a burden upon general taxation.
We wish to compliment the council upon the effective work so far done in pruning the 1914 budget and trust that it will be in no wise [sic] minimized by undertaking this ambitious and doubtful municipal project.
Bureau of Taxation, New Seattle Chamber of Commerce
Perry Polson, Chairman
P. H. Watt
R. W. Hill