The Comp Plan's done — now what?

There was a defining moment during a December meeting of the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners. The board voted unanimously to approve the Comprehensive Plan, which had taken years to finalize. At this point, Department of Community Development Chief Kamuron Gurol and community planning manager Laura Ditmer displayed a dramatic simultaneous physical change: Their faces lit up as their postures relaxed, like the lifting of a massive weight.

Their relief was short lived, as government never sleeps. Even as 2003 winds down, Gurol is laying the foundation for the next comprehensive plan. Kitsap County is on a rapid growth trajectory, and government’s biggest concern is to control and shape that growth that balances the effects of diverse issues on a homogenous population.

On top of this, the county’s upcoming growth will be represented by an impossible to ignore visual symbol. Groundbreaking for the new county administration building is scheduled for the Spring, with the $25 million, 68,000-square-feet facility scheduled for completion in late 2005.

During this time, all county business will gain another level of difficulty.

“We need to continue to support growth, with a clear idea of where the money intended to support this growth knows where it is coming from,” said county manager Malcolm Fletcher. Adds Gurol: “by 2022 we could easily have 70,000 more people come to the county. Where are they going to live?”

In the broadest sense, the county’s most important role is determining how land is to be developed and maintaining a rural/urban balance. In this respect, it must scrutinize and categorize each square inch of land to determine where it fits on this spectrum and what designation best serves the population.

Which leads to another example of Kitsap diversity. South Kitsap is more developed and densely populated than the sparser (and completely incorporated) Bainbridge Island. These two forces play a sort of tug-of-war with the county, with each side imposing some of its taste on the other. In a perfect world, this would represent democracy at its finest. In reality, Port Orchard and Bainbridge Island are polarized on many land use issues.

“Each area has its own personality,” said outgoing board chairman Jan Angel. “Port Orchard is more a part of the county, while Bainbridge Island doesn’t have the same tensions as other cities with regard to growth, because of the natural boundary.”

During the preparation of this series, Foster and Commissioner Chris Endresen each submitted a sketchy to-do list for 2004. Both mentioned the preparation of a new budget, which for the first time was prepared on a biennial rather than annual basis.

Other priority items: The new county administration building. The new jail. Developing a broadband network masterplan, as well as a new personnel manual.

Endresen is also pushing for additional ferry service, looking to private enterprise to supplement what the state already offers. These new boats, probably foot ferries, would operate on the Kingston/Edmonds and Bremerton/Seattle routes. She expects that any new ferry on those routes will alleviate the strain on Bainbridge and make that particular commute less painful for all riders.

The board of commissioners will spend a substantial effort developing a budget, but at least they now don’t have to take the same steps every year. “We spend a lot less time on the budget this way than when it was an annual process,” Fleming said. “And it’s a good thing that we are forced to think more than a year ahead.”

Fleming was pleased this year when real revenue actually exceeded projections, but admitted that it could have easily gone the other way. Budgeting, he added, is a fine art. To miscalculate costs by too wide a margin can be detrimental. Says Fleming “It’s like trying to hit a bull’s eye from 1200 yards.”

NEXT WEEK: The Board of Commissioners prepares for the next round.

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