Opinion

SKIA annexation issue impacts all of us

The Port of Bremerton commissioners have an opportunity at their next meeting to begin winning the needed public support for industrial and commercial development within the South Kitsap Industrial Area (SKIA).

Private property owners within SKIA are pressing the commissioners to propose annexation of the port’s property by Bremerton, since their private property cannot be annexed until the port’s land is annexed. Bremerton cannot leapfrog the port’s land and annex the private property.

An agreement among the port district, the county, and the cities of Bremerton and Port Orchard obliges the port commissioners to postpone any annexation proposal until these governmental entities have made good-faith efforts to reach agreement on sharing the costs and revenues of a developed SKIA.

The private property owners naturally want as much of the costs of roads and utilities to be borne by government as possible — and want the infrastructure put in place sooner rather than later.

Without the infrastructure, demand for their industrial and commercial land is apparently minimal. As noted in an article in the Kitsap Sun, the land in SKIA is “just too far off the beaten path.”

Beating a path to the SKIA will be expensive, and where will that money come from, if not — at least in part — from us taxpayers?

Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola proposes to pay some of the cost with tax revenues from owners of land within SKIA. For example, when they convert land from forest uses to industrial uses, a large tax is usually due to make up for the many years in which the land was taxed at the lower value placed on its “current use.”

His proposal would also earmark all other revenue from a developed SKIA to pay for the infrastructure.

Would the revenue pay for all the costs? No one can say with certainty, since a lot depends on the actual demand for the land once the infrastructure is built.

All parties ought to consider the likelihood that using some revenues from outside the SKIA will be necessary.

And, if the rest of us have to pay part of the cost, then we may need to be persuaded.

Even if voter approval turns out to be unnecessary, using our existing taxes to pay for something we don’t support can cause discontent that affects other things.

Complying with the agreement made by the four governmental entities is important. If the agreement to postpone annexation proposals is not honored, how could anyone expect the voters to trust what is said or promised in the future?

This doesn’t mean that annexation must be postponed indefinitely, but the parties to that agreement need to negotiate in good faith and bring the matter to a conclusion that passes the “smell test.” If it stinks, don’t think voter support will be easy to gain.

At some point, it seems likely SKIA will be annexed by Bremerton. The city of Port Orchard has been geographically isolated from the SKIA by past county land-use decisions, but only the port district’s land is between Bremerton and the SKIA.

If annexed by Bremerton, the costs of governing that area would fall largely on Bremerton; and Bremerton’s share of the revenue has to be related to the city’s costs.

Having what may be the biggest share going to Bremerton doesn’t mean everyone else is left out.

The county would gain revenue from its general fund property tax, if the SKIA property becomes more valuable with development.

The port district would likewise gain from its property tax on the land within the SKIA — and may also gain revenue from leasing its own land, if the area becomes an industrial and commercial center. Taxpayers within the South Kitsap School District could have their tax burden shared by the owners of more valuable land within the SKIA.

While residents of Port Orchard would benefit just as taxpayers within unincorporated areas of South Kitsap do when the port and school districts’ taxes are paid by owners of more valuable SKIA land, it may be harder to identify a special benefit to them.

It apparently would be cheaper to provide sewer services to the SKIA from Port Orchard, so perhaps some particular benefit to Port Orchard needs to be identified and agreed in return for making that part of the infrastructure available at lower cost.

Agreeing to some revenue-sharing arrangement that relates the share of revenue to the costs borne by each of the entities ought to be the goal.

Achieving that goal in an open manner would move the whole project forward and tend to build the public support all parties ought to want.

Let’s hope the port commissioners don’t get off on the wrong foot next week when they consider whether they are obligated to negotiate a revenue-sharing agreement before proposing annexation into the city.

Robert Meadows is a

Port Orchard resident.

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