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Lent, Best square off in final debate of the election

Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent and challenger Todd Best faced off in their sixth and final debate last week on the eve of ballots being mailed to voters.

Hosted by the League of Women Voters, the debate offered one of the clearest contrasts between the candidates in the election thus far.

Lent and Best disagree on whether or not Bremerton needs a city manager, the pathway to growing the city through annexations, how to wean the city off its Business and Occupation (B&O) tax, expanding the Kitsap Conference Center, $20 car tab fees and many other issues.

One of Best’s consistent campaign messages has been about eliminating the B&O tax in four years in order to compete with businesses in Silverdale.

“We’re in a down economy and I think right now would be the time to strike to get us off that dependency, but it’s like trying to take a steak out of the mouth of a lion,” said Best. “Politicians are not going to give back money to the citizens, the businesses and people of the community once they have their hands on it. I can tell you right now, I’m going to be aggressively looking at removing the B&O tax in four years, rather than 33 years that our city council wants to do. We don’t have 33 years to turn the ‘Open for Business’ sign back on. We’ve got to move now.”

But Lent shot right back at Best, who has talked about spending time in Silverdale.

“It disappoints me that my opponent also goes to Silverdale, not only for coffee but for his meetings,” she said. “If he wants to be the mayor of Bremerton I would suggest that he stay in Bremerton.”

Lent noted that the city’s police and fire budgets are $18 million in total and that money collected from B&O tax keeps them sustainable.

“We cannot just eliminate $2.7 million from B&O taxes overnight,” she said. “That is what goes into sustaining our fire and police departments.”

Lent said she thinks annexations and exempting business in the South Kitsap Industrial Area will allow the city to gradually work its way off of B&O revenue.

Lent and Best also disagreed about the possible need for a city manager as the city grows. Lent supports the approach while Best does not.

“If you have a strong leader, known as the mayor, with a strong city council form of government, you don’t need a city manager,” said Best. “I would say ‘no’ to even considering the idea.”

Once again, Lent pushed back.

“I am a strong mayor and I believe in the strong mayor system, but I see growth within the City of Bremerton and I see us at more than 50,000 population with annexations that take place and bring steady revenue and sustainability to the city. I see where we need to have experts in the field of managing. And the only reason I would want to have a city manager is if I would take on duties as a part-time mayor, as other cities are, and be a mayor for opening businesses and in name only.”

While Lent was clear about her push for more annexations, beginning in Gorst and eventually heading further out Wheaton Way, Best expressed some concerns about the annexation process, itself. Best said annexations are expensive and sometimes unpopular and he’d rather focus on improving things within the city limits as they exist. Lent talked about adding more people and more revenue to tax rolls by growing the city’s boundaries.

The candidates also quarreled over a recent dispute over electric vehicle charging stations on Pacific Avenue across from the post office, something the city council said no to.

“Yes, the proposal was voted down and the street, as it’s being repaved we’re putting in water and sewer and also putting in conduit so we’ll have electric in the future, but we are not putting in any charging stations,” Lent said. “It was loud and clear that our citizens and the city council did not want the four stations across from the post office.”

Lent said the number of parking spaces has actually increased from three to seven spots near the post office, emphasizing, “There’s no way there will be charging stations, it’s only conduit, to allow for electricity in the future.”

“So if the city council said no, yet we went ahead and put in the infrastructure for them, wouldn’t you think that they’re coming,” Best said. “Why would you waste our money in putting in infrastructure if you had no desire to do the opposite of what the council has asked of you? They’re coming folks. It’s the salami theory, one slice at a time and we’ll get what we want. It’s the we’re-smarter-than-you approach.”

Later in the debate, Lent took an opportunity to emphatically deny Best’s claims.

“I have to tell you, if this rhetoric continues, you are being misled,” Lent said.

The candidates were also asked about $20 car tab fees for road paving and, once again, disagreed.

“It was a wise move when the city council added the $20 renewal of the car tab fee,” Lent said, noting that all new street work must be Americans with Disabilities Act approved and include gutters, curbs and sidewalks that are accessible.

That work, Lent said, can cost as much as $1 million per mile and the $300,000 that has been collected on car tab fees simply isn’t enough money to get everything done yet.

Best, though, was skeptical.

“I haven’t seen any pavement getting laid down anywhere,” he said. “I see a lot of potholes, I see a lot of streets that are in dire need of being paved. Citizens are burdened once again by paying a car tab tax of $20 which Mrs. Lent was against in the beginning when she ran for mayor her last go around, but yet we have it and there’s nothing being done yet.”

Lent and Best were asked about the possibility of merging the parks and public works departments. Lent is opposed and Best is open to the idea.

“The reason I don’t support it is there is a totally different culture between Public Works and our Parks Department,” Lent said.

Best, though, said there is a shortage of parks workers and the department is top-heavy.

“Maybe we do need to look at other options, like putting our parks workers under the public works department,” he said, noting that a parks supervisor has served as an interim public works director on two occasions in the past.

 

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