City digs in about KRCC

Port Orchard’s City Council is stalling on an interlocal agreement that would direct filing fees to low-income housing programs, but officials involved with the project say the city’s objections may not matter.

In 2002, the Washington State Legislature passed a measure that added $10 to county filing fees statewide and earmarked the resulting funds for both state- and county-based low-income housing programs.

In the years since, Kitsap County has collected more than $800,000 from the fees and anticipates collecting another $400,000 this year. The funds can only be used for programs that support and/or house very-low-income people — residents making less than 50 percent of the adjusted median income for the county.

Local jurisdictions ran into a problem, however, in deciding who would decide where the money went. Although the state has established agencies capable of administering its 40 percent cut of the monies, most counties do not have ready-made agencies capable of reviewing and approving grant applications and independent enough not to create conflict-of-interest issues.

Kitsap County-based officials spent half a year reviewing the alternatives and finally settled on the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council as the best choice. Other options — the Kitsap County Housing Authority, the County Development Block Grant Board and the county Auditor’s Office, which collects the funds — were deemed too problematic.

The Auditor’s Office, said KRCC director Mary McClure, said it flat out didn’t want the job.

“It was too far outside of their job description,” McClure said.

Under state statute, all four Kitsap cities and the county have to sign the interlocal agreement to launch the distribution process. However, when the agreement came before the Port Orchard City Council last month, several council members expressed concerns with the arrangement and the council refused to approve it.

Most objections centered around the wisdom of handing more authority to the KRCC, which many officials belive already has too much power.

“We’re giving it yet another function of a hybrid government agency,” said Councilwoman Rita DiIenno.

Several council members were concerned that the most important element needed to administer the funds properly — impartiality — was lacking in the KRCC. Although all four cities send representatives to the KRCC’s executive board, DiIenno pointed out the three county commissioners, who also sit on the board, carry disproportionate clout.

On the other hand, several council members also pointed out it was better to have elected officials making the decisions than unelected bureaucrats who aren’t accountable to the public.

“I’m far more comfortable keeping it in the political arena,” said Councilman John Clauson.

The KRCC has already approved several grant applications this year, but can’t legally sign a contract appropriating the funds until the interlocal agreement is signed.

At least one proposed recipient — Westsound Treatment Center, located in South Kitsap Industrial Park — is within the city limits. Westsound has applied for $40,000 to help run its rehabilitation program and, currently, the filing fee program is the only one that offers money for upkeep of existing facilities.

“Most programs (just) allow you to build things,” McClure said.

Port Orchard’s refusal to sign could mean Westsound and the other grant applicants are out of luck, at least for the time being.

However, McClure said the KRCC is working in concert with county attorneys to determine whether they can simply leave Port Orchard out of the contract. Under such a plan, the city’s approval would not be needed, but the city would then be exempt from requesting funds from the program.

Port Orchard Mayor Kim Abel said she also plans to ask the council to approve the interlocal agreement for now, with the full understanding the city can back out with 90 days notice if needed.

The council is expected to re-examine the agreement at Monday’s regular council meeting.

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