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Charter vote coming early
It was standing room only Monday morning at the courthouse as the Kitsap County Commissioners unanimously set Feb. 5, 2002, as the election date for the proposed home-rule charter.
If approved by Kitsap voters next year, the charter would implement a slew of groundbreaking changes to county government, such as the installation of a five-member county council to be elected in district-only balloting.
The plan also creates an elected county executive position, proclaims most county elected offices as nonpartisan and creates new powers of initiative and referendum.
The unanimous decision on Monday reflects a request made in November by the elected county Board of Freeholders, the 21-member committee that crafted the charter proposal over the last year.
But commissioners disagreed with each other about whether the election date gives voters enough time to study the ins and outs of the charter proposal.
I support the Freeholders decision to place the charter on the ballot in February, said County Commissioner Tim Botkin. At the same time, the public should be actively engaged so citizens can speak their minds, and nuances of the charter can be worked out.
County Commissioner Chris Endresen agreed with Botkin, saying the February date leaves little room for voters to learn more about what the proposed charter means for themselves and for county government.
While there has been a lot of openness about the process and a great deal of media coverage on the home-rule charter, a lot of folks dont know what the final product actually looks like, Endresen said.
Voters have plenty of time to make up their minds, said County Commissioner Jan Angel, especially since the process of developing a home-rule charter has garnered copious media coverage and several public meetings have been held on the proposed document.
If the charter passes, then there will be enough time for a transition period, said Angel. In other words, there would be adequate time for redistricting efforts and would coincide with the election cycle already in place.
The commissioners decision followed public input offered by about 20 Kitsap citizens eager to speak out about the charter and its election date.
Among that crowd stood Kitsap County League of Women Voters president and South Kitsap resident Kim Abel, who said she was concerned a February date would be too soon for Kitsap voters.
The Feb. 5 date gives voters about two weeks after the new year to look at the issues, said Abel, who organizes public forums prior to elections as a way to educate the public on particular ballot measures or candidates.
As it stands, the proposed home-rule charter election will most likely be performed as a a mail-out ballot to Kitsap County voters.
A March date would give us more time to set up informational gatherings, she said.
Central Kitsap resident and community activist Jim Sharpe suggested the county include a fiscal note with the charter proposition on the February ballot.
There is no way for the average citizen to find out what the costs will be, said Sharpe. When justified, voters will agree to raise their taxes as they did with the Central Communications levy and the Kitsap Transit proposition.
South Kitsap resident and elected freeholder Karl Duff argued that the cost estimates are widely available to the public.
They are also palatable, he said.
The total cost of implementing the charter as estimated by the freeholders, he said, equals about one-half of 1 percent of the countys budget.
County officials say $180,000 will be required to fund the special election next year. If voters approve the charter, the Board of Freeholders estimate the new form of government would add $450,000 not including elections to the cost of county operations.
Meanwhile, county officials estimate the cost to implement the provisions in the charter could reach $848,900 including election costs in 2003 and $723,850 annually thereafter.
Most likely, the ballot measure wont include a fiscal note. Instead, a voters pamphlet could include that information under a pro or con statement about the proposed charter.
For more information about the proposed charter and the estimated financial impact, check out the countys website at www.kitsapgov.com and click on the freeholders icon.