Move's economic impact studied

"By this time next month, Port Orchard city officials expect to have a good idea of how deeply a proposed move of about 250 county jobs might impact the city's economy.A long-anticipated economic impact study is underway with a mission to answer three main questions posed by Port Orchard city officials.County Commissioner Jan Angel met with Port Orchard Mayor Jay Weatherill and City Engineer Larry Curles Jan. 23 to ascertain which issues the city wanted addressed in the economic impact study, including what it would cost the county to move and establish the work force in Bremerton, what it would cost individual county employees to work in Bremerton and what economic impact the move would present to the city of Port Orchard and its businesses.City and county officials will meet again Feb. 21 at 7:30 p.m. in the Port Orchard City Hall council chambers to share the results of the study. I think this is going to bring a lot of stuff to light, Angel said.While an agency has not yet been chosen to conduct the study, County Administrator Malcolm Fleming said there are several independent economists the county could choose.Whichever agency the county taps for the study will likely look at the number of employees proposed to move; whether they reside in Port Orchard, the county or another city and what their spending habits are like.Fleming said the economist will probably gather data and analyze the potential economic impact using an employee survey combined with basic assumptions on employee spending the company has formed from similar work done elsewhere.In addition to the economic impact the proposed move might have on the city, Weatherill has expressed concern that the city and the public have been omitted from discussions, but said the Jan. 23 meeting was a step in the right direction. I'm feeling OK from the standpoint of we have to get the public some answers, he said. They're just completing a study they said they would complete months ago.Despite some initial contention about the county's proposal to move offices and jobs to the new building in Bremerton, Weatherill said the city doesn't have a problem with the move so long as the county follows the prescribed process, including holding public forums, preserving the legal requirements for a county seat and abiding by growth management dictates. The city is not upset with the county for moving offices, he said. The public process is not there. There's also a process of filing under the comprehensive plan which city officials maintain the county has not completed.We're not asking them to do anything we haven't been asked to do. We're taking care of the process. That's what it's all about. All we're asking is the same thing happens on the whole spectrum. One or two elected officials can't decide the destiny of a complex issue like the courthouse, he said.County staff are in the process of meeting with people and planning forums to gather public input on the project, though dates have not yet been set.Angel, whose district includes Port Orchard and downtown Bremerton, met yesterday with downtown Bremerton business and property owners for their input on the building.The proposed 140,000-square-foot governance center - intended to boost the struggling economy in Bremerton's downtown core - is expected to cost between $28 million and $33 million and could house offices for the city of Bremerton, the county and the state and federal government.A recent feasibility study indicated the building could be erected and staffed with as many as 10 county offices - about 280 employees - though city and county officials maintain there is nothing concrete yet regarding which, if any, county offices would move into the building.The feasibility study caused an uproar in the ranks of Port Orchard's City Hall. Some city officials and Port Orchard business owners initially lambasted the governance center players for excluding Port Orchard from the discussion table. But some housing authority and county officials maintain Port Orchard had an opportunity for representation.The mayor sits on the housing authority board and that's where a lot of the conversations took place, Angel said. We had (a meeting) last week and there was no representative from Port Orchard. I realize the mayor and city council are part time, but with big issues like this, they need to have some representation.Commissioner Tim Botkin, who also sits on the housing authority's board of commissioners, reiterated the proposal to move county offices to Bremerton was not the result of clandestine meetings. It's fair to say (Port Orchard hasn't) been in the loop as much as they would like, but it's not fair to say it's all somebody else's fault, he said.Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority Executive Director Norman McLoughlin said he introduced the concept of a city-county office building in downtown Bremerton to the board in the fall of 1999. Discussions surrounding the governance center since have involved the notion of the county locating some offices there.According to the housing authority's board of commissioners' year 2000 minutes, Weatherill attended two out of nine meetings, during many of which McLoughlin discussed the progress of the project.Weatherill attended a June 2000 meeting in which a consent agenda vote authorizing a pre-construction agreement between the city of Bremerton and Kitsap County for the proposed office building in Bremerton passed unanimously.Weatherill said he did not remember the last meeting he attended, but added board members of the housing authority were not the ultimate deciding factor in the outcome of the project.Furthermore, he said, one voice would not have made a difference. I am not Port Orchard, he said. There's no one who can stand up here, whether it be the mayor or a city councilmember or city staff, and say, 'I am Port Orchard.' That's not the way it works. I'm a spokesman, but it's not up to me to process this by myself, he said.Regardless of the outcome, commissioners are urging people to think in terms of what is good for the county. The real issue is what is the significance of this to Port Orchard, Bremerton and the county and what is the overall balance, Botkin said.Angel reiterated a focus on unity. I don't see this as being a Bremerton-Port Orchard thing, she said. It has to be a good economic vitality decision. It has to be a good decision for ... the people of Kitsap County.Weatherill said Port Orchard officials have never begrudged boosting the economy or helping Bremerton. In fact, Weatherill agreed if there would be no negative economic impact to Port Orchard and if the county follows the process, the city would support the proposal. If it's within the law, we don't have any problem with that, he said. We understand the county has satellite offices. We understand that in order to conduct business, you need to have those offices. Our only objection would be to anything illegal.The city's remaining concerns are expected to be addressed in the county's economic impact study. We need to find out those things. And the way you find out is through the public process, Weatherill said. I don't feel we're doing anything to make anyone jump through unnecessary hoops. We're just making sure the process is there. "

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