Opinion

For once, Kitsap County puts its Legislative agenda on the table

A fortunate coincidence presents voters an opportunity to consider what positions on some local issues will be taken by the incumbent legislators and the contenders for their seats.

The Kitsap County commissioners have begun considering the legislative proposals they intend to push during the next legislative session.

Assuming the legislative candidates don’t avoid discussing the proposals being considered by the commissioners, voters could get a better idea of the candidates’ positions.

And, of course, if the commissioners offer up ideas that many voters don’t favor, there is even a chance to influence what the county commissioners try to get the legislature to do in the next session.

In the first draft of the county’s legislative objectives considered by the commissioners on Monday, the items related to revenues and annexations could have a significant impact, if enacted by the legislature.

Once again, as they have in the past two legislative sessions, the commissioners will probably be pushing for additional taxing authority — specifically, the ability to impose taxes on utilities.

City residents are already familiar with the taxes that are included in their utility bills, but counties don’t yet have the authority to impose them.

One of the advantages of living outside a city is the absence of these utility taxes, assuming the level of service by county government is acceptable without this additional revenue source.

Of course, the commissioners could be expected to assert that county tax revenue isn’t sufficient to maintain acceptable levels of service without a new tax.

It would be interesting to know whether any of the legislative candidates lean toward authorizing counties to impose taxes on utilities without voter approval.

Such a new tax would have an impact on more than the county’s coffers and the taxpayers’ pocketbooks — it would influence another item on the commissioners’ legislative agenda, namely annexations by cities.

If the taxes paid by county residents were similar to those paid by city residents, there might be less resistance from taxpayers to annexations.

Unless cities annex residential areas in addition to commercial property, they can end up with significantly more revenue and few new residents to serve with that revenue.

Given time to adjust city spending to use the new revenue after annexing commercial property, cities then often assert that annexing the residential parts of their urban growth areas is impractical.

And, because of the higher taxes that come with living in a city, taxpayers in those residential areas are often not enthusiastic about being annexed by a city.

It can be hard to get cities to attempt annexations of residential areas when the people have the ability to force the question onto the ballot for a referendum.

One solution would be to offer cities additional revenue when they annex residential areas.

With their political clout, the counties of King, Pierce, and Snohomish have been able to push through a state law that gives their cities part of the sales tax revenue that would go to the state when they annex large residential areas.

Our county commissioners would like to have this incentive extended to cities in Kitsap as well, but diverting more revenue from the state’s general fund probably requires more clout than we have.

An alternative way of overcoming cities’ reluctance to attempt annexation when residents can reject it is simply to eliminate the right of referendum.

This alternative was enacted in 2009, giving cities authority to annex without a referendum when they can reach agreement with the county and the fire district serving the area.

Among our local legislators, only Rep. Jan Angel voted against this new annexation procedure.

South Kitsap residents could hope the new procedure doesn’t apply to them, since the city of Port Orchard has been annexed into the fire district and has no fire department.

It would be better to know for sure — and to know what the legislative candidates think about eliminating the right of referendum.

Bob Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.

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