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Angel will oppose governance center
"Saying she has a number of unanswered questions about a proposal to build a joint government center in downtown Bremerton, Kitsap County Commissioner Jan Angel said she will not vote in favor of moving the county into the next stage of the project.Angel and members of the Port Orchard City Council presided at a town hall meeting at Port Orchard City Hall on Wednesday to gather a final round of public input into the proposed governance center before the commissioners decide Monday whether to move forward with the project.Under the governance center proposal, the county, Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority and the City of Bremerton would build a $33 million, 140,000-square-foot joint government center in downtown Bremerton as part of a larger revitalization project.While proponents expect the building will be a first step in encouraging private developers to invest in Bremerton - and from there, the rest of the county - opponents cite concerns with traffic, congestion and parking, accessibility and government efficiency.Perhaps the most salient concern, particularly for Port Orchard business owners, is the proposal to move 254 county employees from the county complex in Port Orchard to the joint government center in Bremerton. According to a recent study conducted by Seattle-based Property Counselors, the move could cost the city about $924,000 in lost sales revenue.In addition to the economic impact, some argue the move would constitute an illegal, de facto move of the county seat.Dave Bertrow said after he and his wife, Kim, bought the Courthouse Cafe and Espresso stand, they asked last September what would happen if the county moved its offices. He said they were told it wouldn't happen. We invested $60,000 in that business for what we saw as a potential stream of income. We gave ourselves a year, with a second part to add increased investment to make it grow. We've invested a lot of money. We've never made a profit.He said they had an example recently of the impact the move could have on their business when the Department of Community Development office was closed for the day. Business was down about 25 percent, he said. It's absolutely devastating to us what happens when there's even one office out for the day.Bay Street Association President Phil McCormick, who also owns Rewind Music and Coffee on Bay Street, said he would do whatever it takes to stop the project. If a suit would stop them, I would file. I'd do anything in my power to not lose $1 million from Port Orchard.Bay Street Association Vice President Ron Rider, too, said he would support litigation. If this decision comes to a yes vote, I will be the first in line to get involved with whatever legal action is necessary to tie this up and run it into the ground, he said.Others at the forum argued Bremerton leadership is responsible for fixing Bremerton's economic woes, not the county.Bremerton Mayor Lynn Horton said she hoped the cities would work together. We have been trying to deal with our issues. Yes, in the past, there have been some errors, but we're trying to correct them, she said.After two hours of sometimes-hostile public comment, Angel said she was hesitant to move to the next phase, which would commit the county to up to $320,000 in existing real estate excise tax money and would allow the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority to begin land acquisition, acquiring permits and conducting environmental studies.There are so many issues still unresolved, we can't risk taxpayer money, she said, citing legal questions regarding the county seat, traffic congestion and parking, infrastructure and environmental questions. I guess it comes back to a business decision. And asking, 'Would you put your money up with all these unknowns?' There are too many unanswered questions. And the legal question - that's first.Botkin, who attended the town hall meeting as an audience member, said the issues Angel named wouldn't have been addressed until the next phase anyway - the phase commissioners are preparing to vote on Monday.Money the county would spend on the project would come from a real estate excise tax fund - taxes that have already been collected and are restricted to capital projects.Some have accused Botkin of moving forward with the project despite public protest, but he said no better idea has been presented - and somebody has to make the first move to improve the county's image. If something else would come up, something that really could happen, we'd pull this off the burner right now, he said.According to a study conducted by California-based Charles Lesser and Co., the potential revitalization would be contained mostly within Bremerton, with more limited benefits to surrounding areas.Erling Mork, a private economic development consultant who has worked with the city of Bremerton in the past, said government center projects are typically contentious, though not without merit. Private development does follow public development, he said. Projects like this are always contentious. This is typical.The two communities Lesser and Co. studied - Suisun, Calif., and Smyrna, Ga., faced public opposition to their proposed government centers, too, but it quickly dissipated. Once built, people forgot what it was contentious about, Botkin said.Betrow, of the Courthouse Cafe, said the information delivered in the study was inaccurate. The information commissioners received from the survey was bogus. In 1998, when we left Smyrna, people were very divided, he said.With Angel voting against the next phase and Botkin voting for it - unless a better idea comes up between now and Monday - Commissioner Chris Endresen will be the tie breaker. I think the best thing I could say right now is I'm leaning toward a joint center in Bremerton, she said. I'm hopeful we can work with Port Orchard and Bremerton to mitigate impacts to Port Orchard. I really would like to see us work together. "