Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent and challenger Todd Best squared off in their second debate this week at a forum sponsored by the Puget Rental Owners Association.
As was the case in the pair’s first debate, economic development and the city’s Business and Occupation (B&O) tax were hot topics.
Lent noted that B&O tax revenue pays for the city’s fire department and new businesses are only taxed after bringing in more than $100,000. She also said that Lowe’s did not relocate just outside of the city limits to avoid the B&O tax, but rather because of a dispute with their landlord over a proposed expansion.
“We will be able to remove the B&O tax with annexations, and that’s where I hope we’re going,” Lent said.
Best, though, said getting rid of the B&O tax within four years, rather than the 33-year track it is on now, will be his biggest priority if elected.
“I think we can do this if we look at cost cutting measures and bring in new businesses,” he said. “Why are all these businesses leaving our city and going north of Riddell Road? They’re leaving for a reason.”
In touting her record, Lent noted that eight new restaurants have opened in the city, Wynco is doing business in West Bremerton, the SeeFilm Cinema is a popular destination and a parking garage with 271 slots is nearby with 71 unit apartments in the works above them. She also said she is in the midst of conversations with Bartell’s to open a location in Bremerton.
Lent said that negative headlines about drugs and other issues in the city can make it hard to convince businesses to come to town, but she works hard to promote Bremerton as a friendly, beautiful city.
Best said he has worked with business people, including a pair of downtown restaurant owners, to navigate difficult permitting issues. He had especially strong words for the city’s Department of Community Development, which he has taken to calling the “Department of Community Non-Development.”
“They have done nothing to help us,” he said of the department. “They’ve hindered progress in a lot of ways, and it’s one of the areas I’m gonna look at as mayor. How can we have them be more customer friendly?”
While Best highlighted his “Cut the Fat Campaign” a couple of years ago and his efforts to save city workers’ jobs during a contentious budget season, Lent noted that she has closed a $4 million budget shortfall in her first term and was the first one at city hall to take a five percent pay cut and spearheaded city-wide furloughs.
Both candidates also weighed in on the issue of drug activity and hypodermic needles littering the city.
Best said he has always had to be careful while working on city park cleanup projects and noted that there are only ten year-round parks employees to take care of “38 parks and countless right-of-ways” that are “all littered with needles.” He said the city should look at the possibility of zoning “one in, one out” needle exchanges for drug users
“Right now there’s no incentive, so they just dump their needles,” he said.
Lent said that all park employees are trained on how to handle needles when they come across them and she has worked with the health district and others to educate business owners and residents about needle drop boxes for drug users.
“We don’t want you to pick them up,” she said. “We are working on a program that is really going to come through loud and clear in the next few weeks.”
Lent, who was elected mayor four years ago and previously served on the county commission and worked in the travel industry, and Best, new to politics, who served in the Navy during the Gulf War, was a New York City fireman and has owned several business, painted very different pictures for voters. Lent touted her bona fides as a politician and Best emphasized the fact that he isn’t a politician.
Best said he would always give people honest answers, “not the politically correct answer.”
“You were never gonna hear anything from our mayor up until May 17, 25 minutes prior to the deadline when I announced my candidacy and gave you an option,” Best said. “I mean business. This is not a stunt that I’m pulling here. I really want to be your next mayor of the City of Bremerton and I ask for your vote. I believe in Bremerton. We can do better and we will do better working together.”
Lent, though, took a different tack in her appeal to voters.
“You have to have some political savvy to be an elected official in today’s world,” she said. “There are just certain things that you have to be able to negotiate, that you have to often times compromise. You need to know not just where the questions are coming from, but be detailed in your answers. You have to work with people inside city government in order to know what your needs are.”
Lent highlighted her open-door policy and said the city is “not there to put up roadblocks that will hamper your growth or the growth of the City of Bremerton.”
“I am proud to be the mayor and I am proud to see it move forward,” she added. “We are visionaries and we are moving in the right direction.”