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Bethel annex a photo finish

In order to complete the current annexation of the Bethel Corridor into the city of Port Orchard, petitions reflecting support from owners of 60 percent of the affected property needs to be submitted to the Kitsap County Assessor’s Office today.

The 554-acre package is valued at $145 million and includes the retail area of Bethel Avenue and Tremont-Lund, which holds Wal-Mart, Safeway and several other outlets.

Petitions from land owners holding $87 million would be required to move the action to the next step.

As of Wednesday morning, about $61 million had been committed, although Development Director James Weaver said “we expect a bunch more to come in later today.”

Once annexed, the sales tax from these stores would go to the city rather than Kitsap County. This would increase revenues and pay for many city services, according to supporters of the plan.

By one measure, success is a long shot, since the Wednesday morning total was still about $25 million short.

But the effort’s strongest advocates haven’t given up and are confident they will cross the finish line in time.

“We really want to see this done,” said Eric Kvinsland, owner of Peninsula Brokers in Port Orchard. “This is a great opportunity to see this town grow and get the city the revenue it needs. We’ve seen Silverdale, Poulsbo and Gig Harbor expand. Now it’s our turn.”

Last year’s annexation of the McCormick Woods subdivision into the city of Port Orchard was a high-profile process.

By comparison, the action to incorporate the Bethel corridor is flying underneath the radar.

Due to the holidays and budget matters, public attention was focused elsewhere. As a result, the public assumed the action was proceeding on schedule when in fact it had stalled.

Kvinsland isn’t discouraged by the yardage yet to be covered in such a short time. In early January, he teamed with his son, Lars, along with many other local businesspeople to make a concerted effort to raise the total — going from 28 percent to 42 percent in a little more than two weeks.

The annexation statutes require the signatures to be gathered in a six-month period, which began July 29.

While all involved perceive the deadline as today, there is some flexibility.

The city has three business days to submit all the paperwork, and county offices are closed on Friday.

This gives the city until Wednesday, theoretically allowing a certain amount of petition gathering over the weekend — although supporters want to do everything by the book in order to avoid any potential challenges.

Weaver said the process was slower than expected and that it was often difficult to get support from out-of-town property owners.

Much of the retail property is owned by corporations with headquarters far away from Port Orchard.

The permission requires signatures from governing boards, which in the case of Wal-Mart consists of members of the Walton family.

Mayor Lary Coppola predicted the company would not sign on this week.

“Wal-Mart really wants to be part of the city,” he said, “but they’re in the middle of a permitting process with the county and don’t want to lose this momentum.

“If we had timed this differently I think they would have supported it," he said. “But their inability to support it now isn’t a deal breaker.”

Weaver said all annexation requests are “citizen-driven” and are not supported or opposed by city government.

To this end, the city has provided mailings and information throughout the process, and offered support where it is needed.

City officials have provided constant encouragement, with Coppola saying, “The sooner we get this done, the sooner we can grow.”

On the other hand, there will be no severe disappointment should the signature drive fall short. The effort would need to begin again from scratch, and it could be as difficult gathering signatures from out-of-town property owners.

Since the annexation began in July, it was subject to a revenue-sharing agreement that gradually allocates full tax revenues to the city on a three-year basis.

In September, the city opted out of that agreement, so any annexation beginning after that time would provide a faster allocation to the city.

For this reason, restarting the annexation effort after the agreement expires will lead to a more immediate short-term gain.

Kvinsland said he is unaware of this matter, which he calls “political,” and is still pulling out all the stops to make the deadline.

Coppola, who sees the wisdom in waiting, nevertheless agrees with Kvinsland’s strategy.

“If we wait, we won’t have to deal with the interlocal agreement and can start collecting 100 percent at a faster rate,” Coppola said. “But if we go ahead now, we won’t really lose anything because we’ll be able to get started right now.”

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