Lent consistent but misguided on impact fees

If you’ve lost track of where Kitsap County Commissioner Patty Lent stands on the issue of impact fees over the past two weeks, that’s no surprise.

The controversy surfaced earlier this month when Lent, the first-term commissioner from Central Kitsap, voted with North Kitsap Commissioner Chris Endresen to raise the fees imposed on all new home construction by 10 percent as of July 2004 and by an additional 8 percent over the next three years.

Lent, a Republican, justified her vote by noting the county is short of funding as a result of its growing population and stagnant economy and, therefore, needs more revenue than is currently being generated by the $1,974 assessed on every new home.

Her vote, however, outraged GOP officials and representatives from the local real estate and development industries, who worked hard to help her unseat former Commissioner Tim Botkin last November with the expectation she’d oppose any hike in impact fees.

Lent, in fact, reportedly promised to do just that on least five occasions. She didn’t actually say, “Read my lips...,” but you get the idea.

This resulted in a tense meeting between Lent, party officials and real estate leaders, at which Lent embraced the concept of using real estate excise tax revenue currently spent on open space and parks purchases instead of impact fees to make up the shortfall.

This, in turn, led to a published story in The Sun indicating that Lent had reversed her position on impact fees.

Not so fast. Lent told Independent reporter Dennis Wilken on July 17 she preferred the use of excise tax revenue but hadn’t ruled out impact fees altogether.

Moreover, what she does or doesn’t support is pretty much a moot point if no one bothers to put the matter to a vote and, as of Monday, neither she nor South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel, who voted against impact fees, had any intention of offering a motion to rescind the earlier vote.

Nor is there any formal proposal to substitute excise tax revenues for impact fees. In short, however many conciliatory conversations Lent may have had with Republicans and development supporters in the meantime, impact fees are still scheduled to take effect next year — thanks in large measure to Lent’s vote.

For her part, Lent is trying to portray herself as a principled maverick willing to defy her party and special interests to do what she believes is right. The problem with that stance is that it required Lent to break an important campaign promise — and there’s nothing principled in that.

Lent has a lot of fences to mend with her party and the people she courted to help get her elected, and she could start by keeping her word.

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