Port Orchard continued to reinvent itself during 2009

Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola said the town was no longer “a red-headed stepchild,” and would soon make its mark as the best place in Kitsap to live or start a business.

By December, the town had grown in population through annexation and welcomed a smattering of new businesses — even though a corresponding amount had closed.

It enhanced its reputation with an author festival, a movie premiere and a community effort to paint the town, but still faces the same problems of having less money to provide services than many other small towns in the nation.

Coppola, who had never before held elective office, acknowledged his impatience with the slow pace of government and may have burned some bridges during his first year in office.

But 2009 was more stable, up to a point. There was only one major personnel change, when long-time City Treasurer Kris Tompkins retired.

In 2008, Coppola replaced the city clerk, development director and public works director.

In 2009, they all stayed put.

The 2010 version of the city council will also be identical to the 2009 model, with the re-election of Carolyn Powers and Fred Chang and the victories without opposition of Rob Putaansuu and Jerry Childs.

While Chang’s victory was decisive, Powers 12-vote victory represented what was probably the closest race in Port Orchard history.

This council doesn’t always agree with each other, or the mayor. But it has learned each other’s quirks.

According to observers, this is the most harmonious council in some time (to be fair, this is not directly attributable to Coppola, since some of the more contentious voices on the council are no longer in office, according to these observers).

The strategy to increase Port Orchard’s clout is directly related to increasing its size. To accomplish this, the mayor and the council seek to annex all land within the urban growth area (UGA) and do so sooner than later.

This year, the McCormick Woods subdivision annexed itself into the city limits. With this, the city’s population exceeded 10,000 people for the first time.

The annexation of the Fred Meyer area followed.

While adding the residential McCormick Woods into the city increases the sense of community the next major puzzle piece, the Bethel Corridor, will be a bit more complicated.

The city is looking to modify the existing revenue-sharing agreement with the county, so it will receive the full amount of generated sales tax instead of a portion.

As it stands, the soonest this will happen is November 2010.

Here, the retail-based annexations have the direct effect of increasing sales tax revenue — especially since the newly renovated Wal-Mart will be part of the package.

And the city expects it will be able to expedite needed improvements on the Bethel Corridor the county has been unable to provide.

In this respect, the year coming should bring as much progress as the one that just ended.

The downtown area looks better at the end of 2009, due to a community-driven effort to repaint the buildings.

Even so, its underlying problems persist.

The downtown business climate remains chilly, with many stores closing and others issuing an ultimatum — Come down here and shop or we will go out of business.

Downtown businesses are working together to stay open and become more successful — which seems an attainable goal.

The ultimate objective is to stay open and prosper for at least the next few years, until the downtown library/parking garage/community center is built.

The council is due to meet in January for its annual retreat. At that point it will discuss, among other things, the goals Coppola has outlined for the city.

These include:

• the establishment of a thorough disaster plan, to prepare for a fire or an earthquake.

• the development of a comprehensive, focused, written plan using public input for where the city is going between now and 2013, including a marketing plan aimed at developers who are interested in downtown, as well as other areas of the city such as the industrial park, Sedgwick and Sidney, and the Bethel Corridor;

• ways to cut energy and other costs at city hall, beginning with an energy audit — this may lead to changes in lighting and weatherization, with stimulus money available for some of this;

• electronic billing and credit card use, paper consumption can also be reduced; incorporating hybrid vehicles and solar energy could also be considered;

• establishing a New Business Task Force, which would target specific businesses in the region and present the case for moving to Port Orchard;

• hiring a lobbyist to represent Port Orchard’s interests to the state legislature.

“Some of these goals aren’t really quantifiable,” Coppola said in a memo. “There are also some things that are out of our control, like the economy. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t work toward fulfilling these goals.”

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