Port of Bremerton decides not to raise taxes

Calling it a gesture of good faith, the Port of Bremerton Board of Commissioners Thursday decided not to include a 1 percent tax increase in its 2009 budget.

Instead, the commissioners voted unanimously to maintain both the general and IDD tax levy amounts at the 2008 level, a move that was met with surprise and gratitude by the citizens gathered at its Nov. 13 meeting.

“We’re speechless,” said Kathleen Seamans, a Bremerton resident who has been a vocal critic of the board at recent meetings.

Commissioner Larry Stokes suggested such a move last month as the board discussed its preliminary budget, saying while it may save the taxpayers only a small amount of money, the port needed to show it was changing its “tax-and-spend attitude.”

Commissioners Cheryl Kincer and Bill Mahan did not agree with Stokes at the time, voting for the preliminary budget that included the increase while Stokes voted no. However, on Thursday both Kincer and Mahan voted against the 1 percent raise.

“This is a goodwill gesture, and I hope it will go a long way in earning (our district’s) trust back,” Kincer said, adding that she was proud of the “world-class marina” they recently built in Bremerton, but it had been “a long road since the IDD levy,” referring to the tax increase the port imposed to pay for the improvements.

Mahan also described the past year as “a real struggle,” adding that while he believed the port followed “the letter of the law,” it could have been more transparent in conducting its business.

“We are trying to win back the respect of the citizens with this act of good faith,” he said. “I don’t believe this action is going to make a big difference, but it is a symbolic gesture.”

In fact, Swanson previously detailed the increase, which was allowed by state law, as a total of $76,000 which represented a “very, very nominal amount of money from each individual. I never want to say that money is not important, but the impact on the taxpayers is relatively small.”

To illustrate, Swanson said that with the average home value in the port’s district being $242,070, if the port applied the tax rate without any increase, the average taxpayer would pay $71.43 a year. With the 1 percent increase, she said the rate would be 70 cents more at $72.14.

The commissioners were expected to approve the final version of the 2009 budget Nov. 13, but following their decision not to raise the lid on either its regular or IDD, Swanson said she would need more time to trim that money from the budget.

Bremerton resident John Hanson, who has also voiced his concerns to the port recently regarding tax increases and its Sustainable Energy and Economic Development project, said the decision not to raise taxes was a good one.

“To quote a politician, ‘Tonight, we began to heal,’” Hanson said. “But there is still a lot of apprehension.”

• Also at the meeting, Swanson clarified that there is only one “placeholder” in the port’s 2009 budget for a potential new staff position. She said there has been no decision yet on what the position will be or in which department it will be added.

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