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Debate heats up as incorporation vote draws near
There’s no doubt that Kitsap County will take a huge hit -- a $7 million hit -- if voters approve a ballot measure to make Silverdale a city.
That’s the finding of a county report issued last week from the office of County Commissioner Josh Brown.
“For the county, (incorporation) would be a tremendous loss of sales tax revenue overnight,” Brown said. Brown is the commissioner who represents the area of the county that will become the city of Silverdale if the measure is approved. “The county would lose a significant amount of funding for services and that can only mean a reduction in services to the remaining areas of unincorporated Kitsap County.”
The loss of retail sales tax revenue would be about $7 million, or 8.7 percent of the county’s general fund, the report said.
“When you look at the fact that the entire budget for the sheriff’s office is $16 million, and the jail is $13 million, losing $7 million would be something that we would feel,” he said. “It would be catastrophic.”
But supporters of the incorporation said the report written by Eric Baker, the county’s special projects manager, and made public by Brown, is just a “scare tactic,” meant to intimidate voters.
“These sort of heavy handed scare tactics by local public officials are clear evidence of (a) conflict of interest,” said Rob MacDermid, who spoke as an individual voter, but who is working with the Citizens United for Silverdale, on the campaign to incorporate. “It is clear that these officials are not acting in the best interests of Silverdale but rather to preserve the status quo for the benefit of the county as a whole. This is another clear demonstration why Silverdale needs its own local government.”
While Brown and the other two county commissioners decided early on not to take a stand on the incorporation vote, Brown said he presented the information about the effects that Silverdale becoming a city would have on the county as “just putting the facts on the table.”
“We’ve had a lot of questions,” he said. “We’re just trying to give the data that will show what the impacts will be.”
Much of his concern is for the unincorporated areas that will have services reduced, he said.
“When you look at an area like East Bremerton, that has about 30,000 residents and will remain unincorporated, you begin to wonder what will happen to those residents,” Brown said. “These areas are not rural. They are very urban in nature and yet they will see a reduction in services simply because the county will not be able to afford the kind of coverage we have now. They will notice fewer sheriff’s patrol cars in the neighborhoods and they will see fewer road repairs.”
In light of that, those places will have to determine their future by either annexing into neighboring cities, forming a cities of their own or coming to terms with less response from the county.
The report said that the county also could lose $3.5 million from the property tax road levy. This levy is used for road planning, maintenance and construction efforts and funds law and justice efforts in the sheriff, prosecutor and clerk’s offices. There would also be a loss of $658,000 in storm water fees that are now paid to the county if incorporation happens, according to the report.
And Brown said, it is uncertain how the transition of services from the county to the city would take place.
Immediately, the city would be responsible for roads. Control of parks, wastewater and storm water facilities would have to be negotiated. Among those, would be the Central Kitsap Community Campus, currently owned by the county, but in the incorporation area. Any transfer of property would have to be approved by voters.
MacDermit was critical of the county’s handling of the community campus.
“Much of this property is now mortgaged with debt that had nothing to do with Silverdale or the campus,” he said. “Much of this debt is related to the bailout of the redevelopment plans in downtown Bremerton that went upside with the economy during our recent recession. Had Silverdale been incorporated 10 years ago, the City of Silverdale could have acquired this land for the campus and, today, it would not be encumbered by debts that arose elsewhere in the county.”
According to the report issued by Brown, there is $58.35 million in capital improvement projects in the incorporation area scheduled for the next 12 years. Those projects would have to be looked at by the new city government which would have to determine if they would happen, Brown said.
MacDermit thinks that transition is a two-way street.
“The County by law has a duty to coordinate with the new city government to work out some reasonable transition plan,” said MacDermit.
He also said he thinks Brown is off base when he suggests that the new city of Silverdale would not be able to find people willing and able to serve. Brown has previously said that he has concerns that those backing incorporation don’t reside within the city limits and could not serve on a city council, should the vote pass.
“I find comments made by Commissioner Brown that suggest that the citizens of Silverdale cannot form their own local municipal government and chart their city’s future absurd,” MacDermit said. “I am quite confident that many well qualified candidates will step forward to serve in this city’s new government. I know of several individuals who have expressed an interest in doing so.”
While Brown said the facts show that the county will be negatively impacted if Silverdale incorporates, some who support incorporation say that isn’t the entire story because Silverdale will contract back with the county for services.
“Based upon the recent history of what has happened in other counties where cities have incorporated, Silverdale’s incorporation shall not be Armageddon for Kitsap County,” MacDermid said. “King County, Pierce County and Spokane County did not spiral into chaos when communities recently incorporated within those counties. Commissioner Brown’s concerns are overstated. There will be a very long term benefit for Kitsap County when it no longer has to provide urban services to Silverdale. For Kitsap County to attempt to be the municipal government for Silverdale, makes no more sense than having the Chief of Staff of the United States Army run the United States Navy.”
Whether the new city would contract for services with the county, and just which services those would be, remains to be determined, should the vote pass.
Brown said incorporation plans have never included contracting back with the county for all services.
“That’s just not going to happen, period,” he said. “The folks who are wanting incorporation know that. They will at some point want to have their own departments. This will be a city with significant commercial resources. This will be a very rich city.”
Because of that, Brown said the city of Silverdale will have the resources to have its own public works department, its own city attorney and eventually its own police department.
“It’s going to come down to how Silverdale can best serve its residents,” he said. “For some things it might make sense for them to contract with the county. But in a situation like a snowstorm or a flood, where we would have our (county) road crews working 24-7, we would want our crews working in the unincorporated areas first, clearing the rural roads first, before roads in the city.”
Those who are undecided on the measure are weighing whether another layer of government would increase their quality of services, Brown said.
“It’s alluring to be in a city,” he said. “But some are asking themselves if another layer of government would mean anything better for them. That remains to be seen.
“For those people who live on the outskirts of what would be Silverdale, they’re the losers. They would still shop in Silverdale and spend their money there. But the sales tax they would pay wouldn’t benefit them in any way because they don’t live in Silverdale.”
If incorporation passes, Silverdale would be among the richest in the state, Brown said.
“Certainly, it would be the richest city in Kitsap County,” he said. “And the county would be significantly impacted. We would just not have the same resources. And if anyone tells you that the county wouldn’t lose in the end because Silverdale would contract for services with us, they’re either kidding themselves or they have a real arithmetic problem.”