Opinion

We need answers if county wants money

Perhaps in the next few months we will see whether our county government can deal effectively with things that require action in the near future rather than the long term.

It’s not a sure thing, since the temptation will probably be strong to look at broader issues and farther into the future – things that don’t require the same attention to detail and execution that near-term projects involve.

Here in South Kitsap, the Bethel Corridor project seems to head the list if sorted in chronological order. Execution of the plan adopted in 2000 has apparently been on hold for long enough.

During their recent “retreat,” the county commissioners reportedly discussed some “big picture” items as well as long-term requirements such as funding urban services for urban growth areas. They even pondered the effect of a new city encompassing the area called Silverdale.

This is all well and good, since it would be nice to think that growth management really involves both growth and management – rather than endlessly pasting together plans that are not, and perhaps cannot be, executed.

The latest glitch in long-term plans seems to be the failure to show how sewer service would be funded for urban growth areas. Apparently, the supposedly comprehensive plan did not plan for actually doing the necessary work.

So, our Bethel Corridor project will have to compete for attention with the loftier goal of assembling a long-range plan that could possibly be carried out.

Could we just have a comprehensive plan that states the funding procedures available under existing law and then concludes by saying nothing will happen without the money? It would be short, if not sweet, and would allow us to turn our attention to things that require action now.

The funding picture for the planned improvements to Bethel Road seems to be taking shape.

None of our existing taxes would be used to pay a part, unless the city of Port Orchard agrees to assume the county’s debt upon annexing that area. So, rather than paying 38 percent of the cost with existing taxes and 21 percent with new taxes from residents of South Kitsap, 59 percent (about $16.4 million) would be paid with new taxes.

Meanwhile, the property owners whose land would be specially benefited because of its proximity to Bethel Road would pay the other 41 percent (about $11.4 million).

Getting South Kitsap residents to approve new taxes or fees will apparently require a showing that the expenditure would be more like an investment than most things government officials call investments.

Is there anyone who can lay out a plausible scenario for commercial development along Bethel Road that would indicate that South Kitsap residents gain enough from the expenditure to make it worthwhile?

Assuming it can be shown to be worthwhile, is there anyone within county government who can lay out the funding options with citations to the specific sections of state law which authorize particular taxes, fees or assessments?

If we are to approve one thing or another, it would be more than just nice to have a believable explanation of the options.

For example, when the law says property taxes could be levied based on the value of taxable property with the approval of at least 60 percent of the voters, the county’s imaginative suggestion that flat fees could instead be assessed does not ring true.

It should be easy for county staff to cite the specific law that authorizes flat fees based on the number of households which could exist on a parcel of land. That is, it should be easy if there is such a law.

Persuading voters to approve flat fees which have little, if any, relation to their property’s actual value and no relation to their actions to subdivide or otherwise take steps to develop their property may not be easy.

We are accustomed to “impact fees” that come due upon taking steps to develop property, but who is familiar with a fee which is due simply because you might some day decide to develop the vacant part of your land or replace your house with a multiple-residence building?

We are also familiar with the idea of dividing the total tax among ourselves based on the current values of our taxable property, but who is familiar with paying a fee that is the same for a million-dollar house and a median-priced home?

If the voters are really going to be asked early next year to approve funding for Bethel Road improvements, the county needs to do a lot more to inform and persuade – and private groups will probably have to carry a part of the load while the county learns how to do things through a “transportation benefit district.”

Robert Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.

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