Will incorporation mean better services to those who live in the proposed incorporation area, or will incorporation mean higher taxes and another level of government?
That was the bottom line for many of those who attended a recent forum about the current incorporation efforts in Silverdale. The forum, sponsored by the Central Kitsap Community Council and the Silverdale Chamber of Commerce, was an opportunity for concerned residents to hear comments from representatives of area cities that have incorporated in the past 15 years.
“For me, I wanted to make sure that police services in my area improved,” said Rebecca Clark, a former city council member and incorporation organizer in Covington. She became involved in that city’s incorporation efforts more than 10 years ago. “After much study, we determined that by incorporating, we could better control what our taxes were spent on, and ultimately provide better safety, better planning and better development standards than we were getting from King County.”
Clark was one of five panelists who spoke to about 60 people who attended the forum. Others on the panel were from Maple Valley, Kenmore and University Place.
The panelists said in all their situations, the areas that became cities were facing incorporation or annexation to other existing cities.
“We knew that if we didn’t do something, eventually, someday, we would be annexed by Tacoma,” said Caroline Belleci, city council woman for University Place. “Our citizens were frustrated with the growth in multi-family housing (apartments) in what was a single family community.
“We felt that the county was just letting it happen and we didn’t have a say-so. We weren’t seeing the new developments being asked to help pay for street improvements even though that’s what the county standards called for.”
That was what drove residents of the area to look into incorporation, she said.
“We wanted what would give us the best control over our future,” she said. “We decided incorporation was the best option.”
Other members of the panel said that as part of the county, they had no identity.
“Kenmore now is a great place,” said David Maehren, co-chairman of the incorporation efforts in Kenmore. “Before, we didn’t really have an identity. Now, we do. We have a City Hall and we have celebrations and hundreds of residents participate.”
Maehren said before incorporation, Kenmore was experiencing uncontrolled growth of such things as storage facilities in the middle of town and adult entertainment venues. But once Kenmore became a city it could self-regulate growth and keep its character as a small community.
But panelists said the move to incorporation wasn’t without struggles. Included in that was working out contracts with the county and/or neighboring cities and public districts (fire and library) to provide services such as police, public works, planning and development. The cities represented chose to contract for police services rather than have their own departments. However, over the years since they have become cities, they have taken on providing other services such as planning and public works. Some of them now have their own city office buildings, while others rent office space.
“Was there a sense that we were out to build an empire?” said Maehren. “I don’t think so and we haven’t spent tax dollars without going to the voters to give them their say. But the advantage in that is that as a city, you have a representative that lives in your neighborhood and knows you that you can contact; whereas if you are part of the county, that isn’t always true.”
Efforts to incorporate Silverdale aren’t new. Throughout the years since the mid 1980s, citizen groups have sprung up and taken on the challenge of incorporating. The last time voters saw the option was in 1999.
In 1999, the “nays” won out at the polls narrowly — by less than 10 votes — but the election was eventually thrown out because of ballot issues. The following February, cityhood proponents had another shot, but failed by a larger percentage.
For the past year a group calling themselves Citizens United for Silverdale have been spearheading the work for incorporation. Their work has ultimately led to the issue being on the ballot Feb. 12. The group’s strongest commitment to incorporating is providing local control.
But those who oppose incorporation say that they fear it would just create another level of government.
“You cannot get a new layer of government without paying for it,” said Paul Middents, who opposes the incorporation. “In Covington residents saw an average of $400 increase in their taxes after incorporating.”
Middents said he worries that creating a city of Silverdale would be costly.
“City managers don’t come cheap,” he said. “And how long before Silverdale leaders will think they need to have a city hall to rival the Norwegian Vatican in Poulbso,” he said, referring to Poulbso City Hall.
He also thinks Kitsap County government is working well and providing good services to all county residents economically.
While the county’s Boundary Review Board ruled in October that Silverdale should not incorporate, Randy Biegenwald, chairman of the pro-incorporation committee, said the decision really is that of the voters.
He also pointed out that the Growth Management Hearings Board of Central Puget Sound ruled that incorporation is appropriate for an area like Silverdale that has a densely developed commercial hub, and urban services.
Proponents argue that there will not be another level of government or more taxes.
“Instead of paying the county, you’ll just be paying the city,” Biegenwald said. “And the control over those dollars will be more local.”
Citizens United for Silverdale states on its website that the new city would have a city council of seven representatives who would be elected by voters. That council will be charged with hiring a city manager and setting up city departments, or approving contracts for services, such as getting police services from the county.
In the cities represented at the forum last week, the creation of each city took about two years. The proposed city of Silverdale’s boundaries have been redrawn a couple of times since efforts began. It now includes about 12 square miles. The city would have a population of about 19,000 and an assessed value of nearly $2.2 billion. Tax revenue per capita will be about $600.
Ballots are expected to be mailed Jan. 25.
Kitsap County election officials said they anticipate about a 50 percent turnout. With more than 9,000 registered voters in the affected area, the measure could pass with about 2,250 “Yes” votes.