It’ll take more than this to win voters’ respect

Port of Bremerton Commissioner Bill Mahan’s bald assertion last Thursday that the board is “trying to win back the respect of the citizens with this act of good faith” would be comical if it weren’t so offensive.

The “act” in question was the commissioners’ vote on the port’s 2009 budget which, for a change, didn’t propose an increase in property taxes for those living within the Port of Bremerton’s sphere of influence.

“I don’t believe this action is going to make a big difference,” Mahan conceded, “but it is a symbolic gesture.”

Possibly, but exactly what does it symbolize, coming as it did just a day after the commissioners voted 2-1 (with Mahan and Commissioner Cheryl Kincer in the majority) to move ahead with plans to develop the port’s controversial Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) project without bothering to put the question to a public vote?

Not that the public’s approval of using tax dollars to subsidize a business incubator catering to highly dubious green-technology companies was legally necessary, but at least asking for it would have been a real gesture — as opposed to a meaningless symbolic one — to win back that cherished respect Mahan claims to be so enamored of.

The third port commissioner, Larry Stokes, remembering how livid South Kitsap property owners were two years ago when the board finessed the law so it could raise local property taxes to improve Bremerton’s now spiffy but still largely empty marina, suggested to his peers that this time around, before committing to pump untold millions more of the taxpayers’ dollars into SEED, it might be a good idea to find out how people actually felt about the plan.

But the other two declined, either because they understood SEED wouldn’t have stood a prayer at the ballot box or because they really do believe their desires count for more than ours.

As for the commissioners’ magnanimous gesture of a property tax non-hike for 2009, it’s true that with roughly $3 million worth of general obligation bonds sold 10 years ago scheduled to come off the books in the next year, they can divert what the port had been paying to retire that debt into SEED without having to ask the voters for a lid lift.

But the point is, the commissioners had it in their power to actually lower people’s property taxes when those bonds were retired. And if they were really and truly serious about winning back people’s trust, an actual tax cut would have accomplished that objective far more effectively than the sleight of hand Mahan expects gratitude for.

Mahan and Kincer are both being more than a little disingenuous about what they’re getting us into with this deal. The reason your property taxes are staying flat next year instead of coming down is because the commissioners already voted in October to spend $2.58 million on SEED.

But it isn’t just a question of not raising your taxes in order to make a one-time payment to the project.

Having “invested” that money, they’ll have a ready-made excuse to keep throwing more and more of it down the drain over the years to keep the project alive — just as the Berk Report, which the port commissioned to evaluate SEED (though Mahan now scoffs at its findings) predicted would be necessary.

Like a compulsive gambler, the commissioners will keep doubling down on their losing bets — using our money, naturally — in the vain hope of hitting a jackpot that will never come.

At least that’s our opinion. And you’re certainly entitled to yours. But the port commissioners obviously aren’t interested one way or the other, or they would have agreed to put SEED to a vote once and for all.

And they didn’t. But they did agree not to raise your taxes ... this year.

Problem is, anyone whose respect could be bought with as cynical a gesture as the port commissioners offered up last week didn’t have much of that commodity to barter with anyway.

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