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Port candidates asked about SEED, tax hike

At a forum Tuesday morning with three candidates vying for a Port of Bremerton commissioner seat, it did not take long for the subject of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development project to come up.

“Will you support SEED?” asked South Kitsap resident Robert Oliver, posing the first question from the public gathered at Cloverleaf Sports Bar & Grill, where the Bremerton Area Chamber of Commerce hosts its Eggs & Issues candidate forums.

Chico resident Roger Zabinski said he supported clean technology and creating jobs, but does not “support an incubator building at this time. If there is a demand from tenants, then the port should put them in available buildings.”

Former Bremerton mayor Lynn Horton said there are “components of SEED that are intriguing,” but the project also has “a lot of flaws.”

Bremerton resident Gene Hart said SEED is a “great concept,” but promised “not one more penny of your and my property taxes will be spent on SEED.”

When asked if they agreed with the hiring of a community outreach adviser and whether it should be anything but a short-term position, all three candidates felt such outreach should be undertaken by either the port’s Chief Executive Officer or the commissioners.

“One of the jobs as commissioner is to interact with the public,” said Zabinski, and Hart described the hiring of former Kitsap Sun Editor Scott Ware to direct the port’s outreach as unwise.

“There’s been contract after contract signed with nothing to show for it,” he said.

State Rep. Larry Seaquist (D-Gig Harbor) attended the forum and asked the candidates what the port “could do right now to help us dig our way out of this recession?”

Horton said she would like the port to mobilize its marinas and airport to attract as many tourists as possible and to look into launching a “concierge service” that could direct visitors to its facilities.

Zabinski said he would like the port to adopt a policy of “buying and hiring local” as much as possible and provide retraining programs to “help put people back to work.”

Hart said he would start with a monthly financial report.

“Your budget is your road map and the port doesn’t know what it’s going to do without a road map,” he said.

South Kitsap School District board member Kathryn Simpson asked the candidates what lesson they took away from what she described as the port’s “stealth (Industrial Development District) tax,” and asked what they would do to “regain the public’s trust?”

Zabinski said he would “not have supported” the tax, but he does “support the momentum we have in Bremerton now.

“I would have communicated with the public and revealed why we were proposing it and how much it would cost,” he said.

Horton said as a public agency, the port needs to work with a multitude of other local governments and should have considered how imposing the tax would have affected the ability of other entities — such as libraries as schools — to pass their tax initiatives.

Hart said the passing the tax constituted “ripping off the taxpayers” and “shame, shame, shame” on the commissioners who passed it.

When asked if they supported consolidating all of the port districts in Kitsap County into one, Horton said she was “willing to look at it” and that it “doesn’t make sense to me to have all these small ones.”

Hart said he “was not about to battle the other districts to consolidate” and Zabinski said it was “not really up to the port, it is up to the people.”

When the candidates were asked for their visions for the port, Horton said, “No. 1 would be job creation and No. 2 would be “finalizing a strategic plan.”

Hart said the port needed monthly financial reports because it has been operating “without a road map” and that the “taxpayers need protection.

“I will protect your purses and wallets,” he said.

Roger Zabinski said the port should “support economic development, but in a financially responsible way (and) not overextend.”

When asked for their final comments, Hart described himself as “really a nice guy, really kind and really gentle — except when I see injustice.”

Horton said she was “the only one with municipal government experience” and she knew how to “find different ways to skin the cat” and “how to get the job done.”

Zabinski said he believed he had the “education and leadership experience to lead.”

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